The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan have filed suit in federal court in Michigan charging that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops forces hospitals to deliver what amounts to substandard medical care.
Directly at issue are the bishops' "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services," which among other things forbid Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, even if the pregnant woman's life or health is at risk.
"It's about rules that tie the hands of doctors at Catholic facilities," says ACLU Deputy National Legal Director Louise Melling.
The case involves a mother of three from Muskego, Mich., named Tamesha Means. In December 2010, when she was 18 weeks pregnant, her water broke. A friend drove her to the nearest hospital, Mercy Health Partners, where she was told she was likely to lose the baby. But she was not told that the hospital would not do the therapeutic abortion she would get in a non-Catholic facility. She was given medication to stop contractions and sent home. She returned to the hospital later, bleeding, running a fever and in pain, and begged them to help her.
"And they proceeded on with, 'Well, you know, Tamesha, there's nothing that we can do to help you,' " she says. Means said she was unaware that it was a Catholic facility.
Eventually, as the hospital was preparing to discharge her again, she delivered the very premature infant, who died after a few hours.