A pro-life activist holds a sign during a rally in front of U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 25. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)
A pro-life activist holds a sign during a rally in front of U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 25. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

DETROIT (CNS) — Lawyers for a woman who claims she suffered a miscarriage because of the way a Michigan Catholic hospital handled her case have filed suit on her behalf against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over its “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care.”

[quote_box_right]From the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

The President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dr. John Haas, gave an incredibly powerful interview today, as he defended the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. In the interview, which was part of a larger story concerning an ACLU lawsuit against the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dr. Haas gave ample time and consideration to the Church’s position on these matters and, in the process, illustrated the utmost importance of interpreting the ERDs properly and using them correctly, whether one is acting in accordance with the ERDs, or simply making judgments concerning them and their nature and purpose in governing Catholic health care facilities.

Dr. Haas cited numerous direct examples from the literature of the Catholic Church in this matter and, in the undeniably hostile environment of a secular radio discussion, acquitted himself impeccably on behalf of The Center and in defense of the position of the USCCB and the Catholic Church.

Please, take some time to listen to the full story and discussion on the Diane Rehm Show’s website, HERE. Click the “Listen” link in the upper left hand corner of the page to open the audio stream.[/quote_box_right]The lawsuit was filed Nov. 29 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan/Southern Division by the American Civil Liberties Union.

All Catholics hospitals in the United States are required to adhere to the directives, most recently revised by the U.S. bishops in 2001. They guide Catholic health care facilities in addressing a wide range of ethicalquestions, such as abortion, euthanasia, care for the poor, medical research, treatment of rape victims and other issues.

According to the suit, plaintiff Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant in December 2010 when her water broke and she had a friend rush her to a Catholic hospital, Mercy Health Muskegon, as it is now called. It says as a mother of three, Means, then 27, knew something was seriously wrong with her pregnancy and the Catholic hospital was the only such facility close to her home.

Means claims that she received negligent care from the hospital, ending in her miscarriage, because it was required to follow the USCCB directives and was prevented from telling her “the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of surviving” and informing her the safest option was to “induce labor and terminate the pregnancy.”

Mercy Health spokeswoman Joan Kessler told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 3 email that hospital officials were “still reviewing the situation and at this time we have no comment.” The USCCB had no comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that an ultrasound showed that Means was suffering from “oligohydramnios,” a condition characterized by a deficiency of amniotic fluid surrounding the unborn child. The lawsuit said that in Means’ case, it was caused by “the premature rupture of membranes.”

The hospital, then called Mercy Health Partners, or MHP, “did not tell Ms. Means that it would not terminate her pregnancy, even if necessary for her health, because it was prohibited from doing so by the directives,” the lawsuit says.

The Catholic Church opposes abortion. The directives state, “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death.'”

The suit says the hospital sent Means home and told her to make an appointment with her own doctor. She returned to Mercy Health the next day, was sent home again, only to return a third time, according to the suit. As “she waited to be sent home for the third time … she began to deliver,” the suit says. “The baby died shortly after birth.”

“Ms. Means brings this negligence action against the defendants for their roles in promulgating the directives,” the lawsuit says. “As a direct result of these religious directives, Ms. Means suffered severe unnecessary and foreseeable physical emotional pain and suffering.”

Others named as defendants are three former chairs of what the suit calls “Catholic Health Ministries, the religious sponsor of MHP.”

Mercy Health Muskegon in west Michigan is part of a regional system of Catholic health care facilities. In May of this year, its parent company, Trinity Health, merged with Pennsylvania-based Catholic Health East. The consolidation created one of the nation’s largest Catholic health systems, serving patients and communities in 21 states.

The new organization has its headquarters in Livonia, Mich., and maintains a divisional office in Newtown Square, Pa.