After badgering the government to write women's health care policy around its specific beliefs, the US Council of Catholic Bishops has finally gotten itself sued over the harm those beliefs cause when put into action. Behind the first-of-its-kind suit is the American Civil Liberties Union (you know, the one that heavily-Spotified rapping star Macklemore likes a lot), and what happens as a result of the suit could affect your health care — and how far "religious freedom" can justify health care administration — in a big way.
As the Catholic Church is staunchly against most forms of contraception (including the morning after pill) and abortion for any reason (even if the mother's life is in danger) , pregnant women experiencing abortion-requiring medical emergencies who are unlucky enough to land at a Catholic-administered hospital often find themselves SOL. Here's MSNBC's Irin Carmon on what Catholic health care looked like for the Michigan woman whose case led to this lawsuit:
The suit is on behalf of Tamesha Means, a mother of three who was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke. At Mercy Health Partners (MHP), the Catholic hospital where she sought care (the only hospital within miles), no one told her her fetus had almost no chance of survival under the circumstances, or that she was at risk for serious infection if labor was not induced to terminate the pregnancy. Instead, she was sent home and told to come back a week later.
But wait! It gets worse!
Means contracted two serious infections during her ordeal, but survived. According to the complaint, her condition worsened as repeat visits to the Catholic hospital failed to result in adequate treatment. "As she waited to be sent home for the third time, the feet of the fetus breached her cervix and she began to deliver. The baby died shortly after birth. MHP then told Ms. Means she needed to make funeral arrangements."
What Mercy should have done was induce labor, which was in the best interest of Tamesha Means' health. But what they did instead was endanger her life and draw out a traumatic process of losing her wanted pregnancy for much longer than necessary, all in the name of "faith." "Mercy" seems a pretty ironic name in that context, yes?
What happened to Means wasn't isolated, nor is it rare, according to Carmon. In fact, as tax-sheltered Catholic hospitals grow and absorb flailing for-profit facilities, for many women Catholic health care is the only option. And the ACLU's lawsuit alleges that the directives of the Bishops directly conflict with the best interests of patients, calling it "negligence."
Does an ACLU victory mean that women across the country will be able to have abortions for non-life-threatening reasons at Catholic hospitals? Probably not. But forcing Catholic hospitals to rethink their policy on abortions in situations like Means' will certainly improve the quality of care for women, albeit fractionally. Besides, pregnancy is stressful enough without worrying that a celibate old guy in a hat gets to decide when you get lifesaving surgery.
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