The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Catholic health system for refusing to provide emergency abortions to women whose incomplete miscarriages put them at high risk of serious complications.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, the ACLU said that Michigan-based Trinity Health Corporation, one of the USA’s largest Catholic health systems, refused to provide the standard of care to at least five women who miscarried at one of the company’s hospitals. Trinity operates more 88 hospitals around the country.
According to the suit, each of the women had suffered a preterm, premature rupture of membranes, a condition in which the amniotic sac breaks and leaves no fluid around the fetus.
When this happens early in a pregnancy, it virtually always results in fetal death, said Sarah Prager, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington, who is not involved in the lawsuit. Premature rupture of membranes is often caused by an infection. “This is a situation where there is virtually no chance that the fetus will survive,” Prager said. “The miscarriage has started. It just hasn’t completed.”
Women in this situation are at high risk of serious infections and dangerous bleeding, Prager said. Terminating the pregnancy is considered the standard of care, Prager said.
“If you delay action until there is no longer a fetal heartbeat, that can often put the mother’s life at risk or risk her future fertility,” Prager said.
According to the lawsuit, Trinity hospital staff refused to terminate the women’s pregnancies. The women developed serious complications, including life-threatening infections, severe pain and hemorrhaging.
By failing to stabilize the women’s medical conditions, Trinity violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, known as EMTALA, ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said.
“Patient welfare must be the No. 1 concern of health care professionals,” Kolbi-Molinas said. “Every pregnant woman who enters an emergency room should be guaranteed that she will get the care she needs, and should not have to worry that she won’t get appropriate care because of the hospital’s religious affiliation.”
Ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic and nearly one of nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility, Kolbi-Molinas said. Instructions from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, forbid hospitals from performing abortions, even to protect a woman’ s health.
A spokeswoman for Trinity said the lawsuit has no merit.
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