The threat of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has compelled a Catholic hospital in California to sterilize a woman, despite the fact that performing such a procedure contravenes its Catholic teachings.
Mercy Medical Center in San Francisco is a Catholic hospital, operated as a subsidiary of Dignity Health, California’s largest private health care provider. Rachel Miller, a woman scheduled to give birth by C-section in late September, wanted her doctor to perform a tubal ligation following the birth, which would render her infertile going forward.
But hospital staff initially refused her request, citing the hospital’s Catholic religious directives. The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization and other forms of birth control are sinful, as they deliberately sabotage the procreative aspect of human sexuality and thus violate natural law. Mercy’s policies reflect Catholic teaching in other ways, as its doctors do not perform abortions and do not cooperate with in vitro fertilization, as both also contravene Catholic doctrine.
Miller, who says without Mercy’s cooperation she would have to travel 160 miles to receive the procedure, went to the ACLU for help. Last week the ACLU sent a letter to Mercy threatening a lawsuit, arguing that by denying Miller’s tubal ligation they were engaging in sex discrimination by refusing to provide “pregnancy-related care.”
The ACLU claims that, even though Mercy’s sterilization ban applies to both men and women, the ban on tubal ligations constitutes “sex discrimination,” on the grounds that the sterilization was “pregnancy-related care” (a tubal ligation is safer when done immediately after a birth rather than later). The letter also argued that by having religious directives that banned certain procedures, Mercy hospital was illegally engaging in “the corporate practice of medicine.”
This week, Mercy gave in to the lawsuit threat, saying Miller will be able to receive her ligation.
In a post on the group’s website, ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill said she’s happy the hospital will comply with Miller’s request, but that the group won’t be satisfied until all hospitals are forced to stop following Catholic doctrine.
“Rachel is lucky — she stood up for herself, and she is getting the health care that she and her doctor have decided is best for her,” Gill said. “But as long as Catholic hospitals are allowed to apply the ethical and religious directives, many women will be denied care because Catholic bishops are telling medical professionals how to operate.”
This isn’t the first time the ACLU has targeted Catholic hospitals. In 2013, the organization sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over its guidelines barring doctors from discussing abortion as a potential option with patients. That lawsuit was dismissed last month.
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