The American Civil Liberties Union announced on Monday that it had filed a lawsuit against the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, arguing that their anti-abortion directives to Catholic hospitals hamper proper care of pregnant women in medical distress, leading to medical negligence.
The suit was filed in federal court in Michigan on Friday on behalf of a woman who says she did not receive accurate information or care at a Catholic hospital there, exposing her to dangerous infections after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy.
In an unusual step, she is not suing the hospital, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, but rather the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its ethical and religious directives, the suit alleges, require Catholic hospitals to avoid abortion or referrals, “even when doing so places a woman’s health or life at risk.”The Times labels this as "a new front in the clash over religious rights and medical care" and notes various lawsuits by the Catholic Church arguing that laws requiring health plans to cover contraception violates religious freedom.
While this does indeed involve a legal issue involving churches and medical care, I am not sure that it is very instructive to compare this suit to lawsuits against laws governing health plans. Those laws involve questions of Catholic institutions' First Amendment rights to be free from certain legislation, while this case seems to be a case of medical negligence caused by the directives of the church. This point seems to be the position the ACLU is taking towards the overall suit.
Of course, I cannot conclude this post without noting that this issue was raised back in 2006 in Season 2 of Boston Legal. In that season's 15th episode, "Smile," a Catholic hospital refuses to give the plaintiff access to the morning-after pill after she is raped. The plaintiff becomes pregnant, and she sues the hospital. While that episode addresses the morning-after pill -- and the distinction between the use of that pill and abortion procedures -- many of the issues raised and discussed are pertinent to the ACLU's suit here.