Catholic hospital—in U.S.—risks woman’s life by refusing to terminate her pregnancy

Mar 19, 2016

Photo credit: The Irish Times

By Jerry Coyne

Most of you probably remember the tragic and preventable death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year old dentist who died in Ireland in 2012, killed by the policies of the Catholic Church.

The story is well known: Halappanavar contracted a serious infection at 17 weeks of pregnancy, one that would kill both her and the fetus if it were not removed. Grania’s post gives more details:

Her husband recounts that repeated requests for termination (in reality, an evacuation of the uterus) were refused because the fetal heartbeat was still present, and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”. She was left with a dilated cervix for three days until the fetal heartbeat ceased. Four days later [Halappanavar] died.

It wasn’t until a year later that it became legal in Ireland to abort a fetus to save the mother’s life!

This almost happened in 2010 in the U.S., to a Michigan resident named Tamisha Means, who now tells her story in The Guardian. Means was 18 weeks pregnant and started to miscarry, but was refused admittance to Mercy Health Muskegon, a Catholic hospital.  Bleeding copiously and in terrible pain, Means went back to Mercy (an inappropriate name!) the next day, and was once again refused admission.

The next day she returned to the hospital for the third time, and only then, when she started going into labor on the spot, was she admitted.  The baby died, but, no thanks to Mercy, Ms. Means survived.  Apparently, doctors could have told her that her child had no chance of survival and terminated her pregnancy, but they didn’t. They withheld crucial information. As Means writes in her article:

Mercy Health Muskegon is a Catholic hospital required to follow policies drafted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As the Guardian recently reported, they have religious directives that guide their medical treatment and decision-making, which includes prohibiting healthcare workers from administering any treatment or information that could result in pregnancy termination. That includes decisions where the woman’s life is at risk, as mine was, and the baby could not yet live outside of the womb, as mine couldn’t.

I was not seeking to end my pregnancy. I was seeking proper medical care. I didn’t have control over my miscarriage, but the hospital had control over the care I would receive at that devastating time. Instead of acting in my best interest, religious beliefs were used to deny me the right type of medical care.

This is insupportable. As the Guardian reports at the link above, five different women had their lives endangered in a year and a half by Mercy’s refusal to terminate their pregnancies. In all five cases, the babies died. The religious directives governing such cases are ambiguous, and it looks as if Catholic health workers simply make judgment calls.


Source: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/catholic-hospital-in-u-s-risks-womans-life-by-refusing-to-terminate-her-pregnancy/

12 comments on “Catholic hospital—in U.S.—risks woman’s life by refusing to terminate her pregnancy

  • I am mightily suspicious of any hospital that defines itself by its religious assumptions rather than medical practice. I’d love to think that a Roman Catholic Hospital was one that wishes to cure patients of catholicism, rather like a cancer hospital tries to cure patients of cancer.
    Let the only involvement of religion in health care be strictly limited to something harmless (on the Hippocratic Principle), like prayer.



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  • @OP – It wasn’t until a year later that it became legal in Ireland to abort a fetus to save the mother’s life!

    Only after the public disgrace of needless suffering and death, with the media holding them accountable, do the backward theists, get dragged kicking and screaming, inch by inch, into the modern world!

    This is insupportable. As the Guardian reports at the link above, **five different women had their lives endangered in a year and a half by Mercy’s refusal to terminate their pregnancies. In all five cases, the babies died*. The religious directives governing such cases are ambiguous, and it looks as if Catholic health workers simply make judgement calls.

    This once again, shows the brain-addled incompatibility of the delusional dogmas of theology, with scientific and medical training to provide compassionate modern medical services based on the welfare of the patients.

    The religious directives governing such cases are ambiguous, and it looks as if Catholic health workers simply make judgement calls.

    What the Hell have “religious directives”, got to do with governing decisions in medical cases? Medical staff are supposed to act in the best interests of the patients! (Not their delusional priests and perverted gods!).

    In civilised states, such establishments would be closed down as unfit to practice medicine!



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  • If a woman has started to miscarry isn’t that God’s decision? If God decides a miscarriage is necessary to save the woman’s life, doesn’t that mean the Catholic Church is now opposing God’s will by denying treatment?

    The Hippocratic Oath states: “First do no harm”, aren’t doctors violating that oath by deliberately delaying treatment? I have to wonder what sort of medical professionals would choose to work in a hospital where medical best practice and the needs of the patient are over-ruled by religious dogma



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  • Do no harm means Do no harm. So in a religious hospital an intentional termination of a pregnancy IS causing harm…in the eyes of the church…but then I live in the REAL world!

    I went to Catholic School grades 1-8. I will always remember the nuns telling us that if it comes down to saving the life of the mother or the fetus (well they said “baby”–but medically it’s a fetus until born), the fetus should be saved. I told the nuns “That makes NO sense!!” What if she has 6 children at home! That will leave them motherless!”
    Ah yes. I was 12 y/o and thinking LOGICALLY! THAT will get you in deep trouble in a Catholic school!



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  • We have a similar problem here in Canada with Catholic hospitals refusing physician assisted suicide to those in protracted intractable pain. Religious crazies should not have a veto over non-Christian health care. They should care only for Catholics. Their funding should be withdrawn if they don’t shape up or they should be expropriated.



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  • In Ireland, the RCC still do not recognise that Savita’s death was caused the failure to grant her an abortion in the early stages of her illness. There were shortcomings in the nursing and medical treatment which she received and these lead to her death; but the fact remains that if she had been given an abortion when it was clear that the pregnancy was no longer viable and she requested the procedure, she would still be alive today.

    No amount of RC spin can change the fact that a dangerous situation, the unchecked progress of a naturally occurring abortion, was allowed to continue due to legal constraints forbidding the removal of a still “living” (heart beating) foetus. Even following the change in the law here, it is still not by any means certain that in the same situation today an abortion would be permitted, as you’d have to prove that the mother’s life was in danger, and it might not be easy to prove that, unless she actually did die. And, as it is reported, there “is always someone looking over your shoulder,” presumably spies from the various RC front organisations which have infiltrated the medical services in this country.



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  • 7
    Cairsley says:

    @nuschler Helen #4

    … in a religious hospital an intentional termination of a pregnancy IS causing harm…in the eyes of the church…

    Yes, Helen, that is the core of the problem — an unsubstantiated belief-system that distorts its adherent’s very perception of reality. It is a veritable delusion, at least in the nontechnical sense of the word, and in some cases even in its psychological sense. Early termination of an unwanted pregnancy is obviously the least traumatic, least disruptive, least expensive way to deal with it, and it does not in fact involve the killing of a human person; but religious dogma formulated in prescientific times forbids it on account of superstitions regarding supernatural entities and infused human souls with eternal destinies at stake, and also on account of outmoded attitudes to women and their right as human beings to personal autonomy and self-determination.



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  • I’ve been an MD for 40 plus years.
    I’ve had 9 y/o’s impregnated by their uncles–tribal customs.

    I’ve had a schizophrenic woman who was x-rayed, given powerful drugs all while pregnant…couldn’t figure out why she was nauseated and having belly pain. Now at 34 weeks pregnancy I needed to find someone who would perform a partial birth abortion. The MDs “caring” for her never thought to do a pregnancy test. Her amniocentesis showed every genetic malformation possible….and she was freaking out because she thought she had an alien growing inside of her. She was in full psychosis and I needed to save her life.

    And the doctor who could do this late term abortion, Dr. Tiller was murdered at church. I could find NO ONE to do the termination of pregnancy so had to put her on powerful drugs to keep her nearly unconscious until we induced labor. Stillborn child–multiple malformations and missing its skull. A termination of pregnancy at 34 weeks gestation is NOT a pretty sight.

    You think I’m AGAINST CHOICE??

    You don’t have a clue. Excuse while I get back to the real world.

    I bet you have never seen a baby born..or seen much less performed an intentional termination of a pregnancy…a D&C. None of it is FUN. But it’s what medicine is about, dealing with real world situations…and I used to care for women who died of septic shock after using knitting needles and coat hangers to self-abort—or died at the dirty hands of a back room abortionist before 1972…Before Roe v. Wade.

    I’ve been fighting for close to 50 years for a woman’s right to choose.



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  • In the state of Washington, more than 50% of all hospitals are now owned and operated by religious organizations, mostly Catholic. In the county where I live, the only hospital accessible to the public (there is a Naval hospital that serves only Navy personnel and their dependents) is now owned by the Franciscans. The only non-Catholic hospitals in the entire region are across Puget Sound in Seattle, (Harborview/University of Washington Medical Center), a long drive and a long ferry ride away, unless you are seriously injured or ill enough to warrant an incredibly expensive airlift. This means that I, and everyone else in my county, are forced to subsidize the Catholic church whenever we need urgent or hospital care, and are forced to abide by their “ethical” directives. As a nurse, I’ve been protesting this for years. Our governor placed a temporary injunction on new hospital acquisitions by religious organizations a couple of years ago after some high-profile malpractice cases similar to those in Michigan, but this has had no impact on the existing problem.

    In my opinion, monopolizing healthcare is nothing more than a way for the religious to do an end run around our state and Federal laws. It’s much easier and cheaper to force their beliefs about contraception, abortion, end-of-life issues, and gay or trans people on patients than it is to try to overturn constitutional rights or pass legislation. In essence, the Catholic church is allowed to ignore the fact that contraception, abortion, death with dignity, and same-sex marriage are all legal in our state, and deny these services and recognition to people who have nowhere else to go. If religiously-owned healthcare organizations cannot abide by state and federal law, they should have their accreditation stripped and be forced out of business. Healthcare access is a basic human right for people of every religion, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender, and economic status. For the same reasons that church and government must be separate to ensure fairness to all, churches should never be involved in providing healthcare.



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  • Oh how the RCC loves to strangle thought and fuck people’s lives up. I’m surprised the Americans put up with this shit. Wasn’t 1776 about ending “tyranny” ?



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  • Mr DArcy

    The Catholic church has suffered a severe ass kick here due to their international pedophile scandal. We are fighting their interference in reproductive rights and in the death with dignity movement in the courts and legislature but their pockets are deep and their minions are brainwashed zombies who keep coming at us time after time. I see a tipping point on the horizon though. Glass-half-full as usual. 🙂



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