Katie Collins / PA Wire / AP

Michigan ACLU takes on Catholic hospital for refusing tube tying

Hospital won’t tie tubes of woman with brain tumor; ACLU says it’s taking on more Catholic hospitals on similar issues

Michigan civil liberties advocates filed a complaint on Wednesday after a Catholic hospital — affiliated with the world’s largest Catholic health care group — refused the request of a pregnant woman with a brain tumor to get her tubes tied during a cesarean section scheduled for this month.

The legal action is the latest among multiple ongoing attempts by reproductive rights advocates around the country to hold Catholic hospitals accountable for not providing procedures involving sterilization, emergency abortions and assisted suicide. And attorneys behind the latest complaint say further legal action is coming.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed the complaint with the state licensing agency after Genesys Hospital in the city of Grand Blanc refused on multiple occasions to grant Jessica Mann, 37, a tubal ligation that she requested. Her doctor recommended the procedure on the grounds that further pregnancies would pose unsustainable risks to her system because of she has a life-threatening brain tumor. 

The hospital — affiliated with Missouri-based Catholic health care organization Ascension Health — rejected Mann’s requests, ACLU Michigan attorney Brooke Tucker told Al Jazeera. The hospital said it did so because it abides by The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Tucker said. Those directives prohibit various sterilization, abortion and end-of-life services that the bishops have determined do not comport with Roman Catholic doctrine. 

“As a Catholic health care system, we follow the ethical and religious directives of the church. Beyond that, we can’t comment on this patient’s particular case," said Genesys spokeswoman Cindy Ficorelli. 

Mann is due in two days, Tucker said.

“Her insurance doesn’t make it easy for her to pick up and go to another hospital,” she added. Without a referral, Mann will need to pay “tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket” to go to a facility that will perform a tubal ligation, which Tucker said would be safest to perform during the planned cesarean-section birth of her expected child.

Tucker said she hopes the complaint will “inspire [Gensys] to reconsider their position.”

The complaint is also designed — like other pending ACLU actions — to address the issue of Catholic health care institutions refusing to provide certain procedures.

Mary-Kay Barbieri, a vocal opponent of Catholic hospital mergers with secular institutions, said in an earlier interview with Al Jazeera that many non-Catholic hospitals merged or partnered with Catholic institutions after small rural hospitals struggled to contend with quality standards mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Some of those secular institutions stopped providing reproductive procedures after joining efforts with the cash-flush Catholic institutions, she added.

Cases like Mann’s are “increasingly becoming a larger issue, just because there are more Catholic hospitals and more patients are obtaining care from them,” Tucker said. After previous lawsuits, she said, she received requests to represent several other women. “This will not be the last legal action taken to protect pregnant women,” she said. “But we hope someone will step in to give women the care they deserve.”

The ACLU is also representing a group of women suing Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic hospital groups in the nation, for allegedly refusing women reproductive health care procedures. In a separate action, the ACLU is appealing a July federal court ruling against Tamesha Means, who sued Mercy Health Partners — a Trinity affiliate — for allegedly repeatedly turning her away while she was miscarrying.

Tucker said Catholic hospitals refusing certain procedures is part of a broader attempt by various entities in the country to deny women the health care they want and need.

“What we’ve seen outside of the Catholic hospital context is legislators inserting themselves into a doctor’s office and seeing them make decisions that should be between doctors and patients. Now a private body is inserting itself into a doctor’s office with no other purpose than to promote their own religious beliefs.”

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