Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
It's been a discouraging year so far for the American Civil Liberties Union. That's because two separate ACLU lawsuits against two Catholic hospital systems have been thrown out of court. The latest loss for the left-wing activist organization came April 11, when a judge dismissed their suit against the Catholic nonprofit Trinity Health Corporation for refusing to perform abortions.
The ACLU, though, will not take “No” for an answer. Several cases are being appealed, and the organization's website boasts: “We're taking on hospitals for refusing pregnant women emergency care under the guise of religious directives.”
Trinity Health Corporation of Michigan
On April 11, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the ACLU's lawsuit against Livonia, Michigan-based Trinity Health Corporation, which operates 86 facilities in 21 states. The suit, filed October 1, 2015, sought relief because the Catholic health care system does not perform abortions.
According to the ACLU lawsuit, Trinity Health is guilty of “denying appropriate emergency care to women suffering pregnancy complications.” They “prohibit Catholic hospitals from terminating the pregnancy of a woman suffering a pregnancy complication, even if such care is urgently needed to protect a woman’s life or health.”
Trinity Health Corp. requires all of its member hospitals to abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives specify, in part:
45. Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.
The Detroit Free Press explained the position of the ACLU:
“We’re taking a stand today to fight for pregnant women who are denied potentially life-saving care because doctors are forced to follow religious directives rather than best medical practices,” ACLU of Michigan attorney Brooke Tucker said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Catholic bishops are not licensed medical professionals and have no place dictating how doctors practice medicine, especially when it violates federal law.”
Eve Pidgeon, spokeswoman for Trinity Health, responded with a statement claiming that the case has no merit. Pidgeon said, “A federal court already dismissed a similar ACLU claim, and we will seek dismissal of this suit for the same reason.” Indeed, the suit was dismissed April 11.
Dignity Health Hospital Network
The Michigan case follows on the heels of a California case filed by the ACLU against Mercy Medical Center, which is owned and operated by Dignity Health Hospital Network in San Francisco. That suit attempted to force the Mercy Medical Center to perform a tubal ligation in violation of the U.S. Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives. Litigants in this case were patient Rebecca Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health. Elizabeth Gill argued on behalf of the ACLU:
“The refusal of hospitals to allow doctors to perform basic health procedures based solely on religious doctrine presents a real threat to a woman's ability to access health care. Patients seeking medical care from public institutions should not have to worry that religious doctrine rather than medical judgment will dictate what care they receive.”
But in January 2016, San Francisco Superior Judge Ernest Goldsmith denied their emergency motion request. Judge Goldsmith agreed with the Dignity Health Hospital Network, which claimed,
“The jurisprudence is unequivocal: A Catholic hospital may prohibit sterilization procedures that violate the core principles of the hospital's faith.”
Other Pending Cases
The ACLU has shown no signs of retreating in its attempt to prevent Catholic institutions from operating according to longstanding Church teaching. In the state of Michigan, the ACLU has advanced its campaign against Catholicism with at least two other lawsuits:
In December 2013, they sued the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of a pregnant Muskegon woman by the name of Tamesha Means, who miscarried in 2010. A federal judge in Grand Rapids dismissed the case, but the ACLU has appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
And the organization sent a demand letter to Genesys Hospital, run by Ascension Health in Grand Blanc, Michigan, on behalf of Jessica Mann, a pregnant woman with a life-threatening brain tumor who was denied a request for a tubal ligation at the time of her scheduled cesarian section delivery. Ms. Mann’s doctors had advised her to have the tubal ligation at the time of her delivery because another pregnancy would increase the risks to her posed by her tumors, as would forcing her to undergo an additional procedure after the delivery.
The stakes are high: The courts must continue to protect the religious liberty of Catholic health care institutions. If they do not, what could follow is a policy change regarding reproductive treatment that is as far-reaching as the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, which imposed the secularist viewpoint on religious and other institutions across America.
Let me offer some advice to pregnant women who seek abortion, contraception and tubal ligation: Don’t do it! And if you’re determined to do it, don’t expect to do it in a Catholic hospital. There are plenty of other, non-Catholic health care facilities that will sterilize you without comment.