The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Michigan have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant woman who suffered a painful, prolonged, and life-threatening miscarriage because the only hospital in her county refused her an abortion.
NBC News reports 30-year-old Tamesha Means of Muskegon miscarried in December 2010 at 18 weeks of pregnancy. According to the ACLU:
[Means] was denied appropriate medical treatment because the only hospital in her county is required to abide by religious directives. The directives, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), prohibited that hospital from complying with the applicable standard of care in this case.
The hospital in question, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, allegedly sent Means home twice even though she was suffering from excruciating pain as a result of the prolonged miscarriage. The Catholic-affiliated hospital dismissed Means even though there was no chance her fetus would survive. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that Mercy Health Partners endangered Means' life by refusing to offer her an abortion. The suit also alleges the hospital never informed Means that terminating her pregnancy was an option and, as the ACLU claims, "the safest course for her condition."
When Means returned to the hospital for the third time, suffering from severe pain and an infection, staff were about to send her home yet again when she went into labor.
"Only then did the hospital begin tending to Tamesha's miscarriage," the ACLU claims.
According to the lawsuit, Means delivered her dead fetus feet-first in a painful and lengthy breach birth.
"Each time I went into the hospital, the same thing happened," Means told NBC News via an ACLU spokeswoman. "They should act like it's their mother or sister or daughter they're treating. I pray to God someone stops this from happening again. My life could have been taken. I was in a very dangerous situation."
According to the ACLU:
The [Catholic] directives prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination, even when there is little or no chance that the fetus will survive, and the life or health of a pregnant woman is at risk. They also direct health care providers not to inform patients about alternatives inconsistent with those directives even when those alternatives are the best option for the patient's health.
The ACLU accuses USCCB of being responsible for "the unnecessary trauma and harm that Tamesha and other pregnant women in similar situations have experienced at Catholic-sponsored hospitals."
Dr. Douglas Laube, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin, told NPR that Means received substandard medical care.
"A woman who is 18 weeks pregnant and who presents with these symptoms, the same that Ms. Means had, should be told that there's virtually no chance that her fetus will survive and that continuing the pregnancy puts her at risk, and that the safest course of treatment would be to terminate the pregnancy. From the outset, Ms. Means should have been given this information at the very least."
"It is clear to me that Mercy Health Partners neglected to treat Ms. Means according to basic medical standards, and as such prolonged her suffering and jeopardized her health," Dr. Laube continued. "While we're all entitled to our religious beliefs, hospitals should not be entitled to impose their religious beliefs on patients and medical staff who do not share them."
NBC News reports Catholic systems operate 630 of the nation's nearly 5,000 community hospitals. All of them are governed by religious directives that bar abortions in almost all cases and forbid sterilization procedures. Those directives often conflict with patients' medical needs. According to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Bioethics Primary Research, more than half of obstetrician-gynecologists working in Catholic-sponsored hospitals have had to deal with conflicts pitting patient care against Catholic ideology and directives.