Fighting for Emergency Care for Pregnant Women at Catholic Hospitals

When you’re pregnant, what can go wrong is often the last thing you want to think about.  Unfortunately, the unimaginable sometimes happens: you’re in the middle of your pregnancy when all of a sudden your amniotic fluid starts to leak.  You’re in extreme pain.  You start to bleed.  You start to get a fever.  You rush to the nearest hospital.  You’d expect that any hospital emergency room would provide you the proper care.  Right?  Unfortunately, that’s not the case if you end up at a Catholic hospital. 

Today we announced a lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest Catholic health care systems, for imposing religious rules on its staff that prevent doctors from performing an abortion in emergency cases involving miscarriage or other pregnancy complications—even when a woman’s life is at risk. We’re suing Trinity Health Corporation after discovering that it has repeatedly failed to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortion care as required by federal law.   

Trinity Health Corporation, which owns and operates more than 80 hospitals around the country, requires that all of its facilities abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.   These directives prohibit a doctor working at a Catholic hospital from terminating a woman’s pregnancy even when the failure to do so puts her health or life at risk.    

These directives are written by Catholic bishops, not licensed medical professionals, and should not dictate how doctors practice medicine, especially when it violates federal law.

The failure to provide pregnant women appropriate emergency care, including an abortion when the circumstances warrant, violates a federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, known as EMTALA.  A public health educator in Michigan discovered that at one of Trinity’s hospitals alone, at least five women who were suffering from miscarriages and needed urgent care were denied that care because of the Catholic directives.

Ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic-sponsored, and nearly one of nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility. The directives bar doctors at those hospitals from offering — or even discussing — certain reproductive health care services, even when those services are necessary to protect a woman’ s health. As U.S. hospitals become increasingly affiliated with religious organizations, the health of American women is threatened by the refusal to provide medically appropriate and often times lifesaving services.

In December 2013, we sued the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Tamesha Means, a woman who was denied appropriate medical treatment because the only hospital in her county is required by the bishops to follow religious directives that put women’s health at risk. That case is currently on appeal.  Today, we are suing Trinity on behalf of all of our members in every state where Trinity operates to make sure this never happens again, and no woman is ever denied the emergency care she needs.

We all have a right to our religious beliefs, but that does not mean we should be able to use those beliefs to harm others. Legally and morally, saving a woman’s life and health must be every hospital’s first priority.  Every pregnant woman who enters an emergency room should be guaranteed that she will get the care she needs. 

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I would be very interested to see the details of this claim. I am a nurse and worked for a Catholic health system for several years. Frankly, unless there is some compelling evidence, I would not believe this claim as the hospitals. If a hospital is violating EMTALA that would require a visit by regulators. If the violations were confirmed there would be severe penalties. I would recommend keeping an open mind until the facts are known.


What is an "emergency abortion" anyways? With all of the technology we have now days why can we not just induce the mother, have an "emergency" c section and let the BABY [not fetus] live outside the womb. It happens all the time. Preterm babies can survive. Just because the membranes have ruptured does not mean this woman is infected. Why kill a living healthy baby? There is no indication that the woman MUST have an abortion, there are other options. It is awful that this hospital is being put down for this. This is America, the country founded on religious freedom, with a background of Christianity! If you don't agree with us Christians then why would you go to one of our hospitals? Even if you are in a rural area, guess what, they will stabilize you and you can be shipped to another hospital. Most rural hospitals are not equipped for excessive trauma anyways. These woman need to get over this pettiness. Bunch of lawyers trying to make money for themselves when all the money could be spent finding ways to help treat the MOTHER AND THE BABY IN SITUATIONS OF PREMATURE RUPTURE OF MEMBRANES.

Lee Labadie, MD

Dear ACLU: If you are, in fact, basing your case on EMTALA, you have already lost. EMTALA only requires a "medical screening exam" and stabilizing treatment; it does not mandate definitive
care. A "stabilized" patient can always be transferred to an appropriate facility. Besides, there's no such thing as an "emergency" abortion , with the possible exception of the case of hydatidiform mole (look it up), and in that instance the proper procedure is abdominal hysterectomy, not a simple D&C. BTW, I base my opinion on 20+ years as a practicing emergency physician, who, like all ER docs, dealt with EMTALA on a daily basis, and who never encountered a woman in need of emergent termination of pregnancy.
P.S. Your opening example, at 20 weeks or more gestation, describes a potentially deliverable fetus, and proceeding directly to abortion would be malpractice.


This makes no sense to me because in 1976, I had PROM at 19 weeks gestation at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. It was and still is a Catholic Hospital. They immediately induced labor because of a risk of infection and my baby was stillborn. They never refused me care nor tried to save the life of the baby due to gestational age. They did not consider it an abortion but rather a life-saving procedure. I am going to see if I can find more specifics on these cases, but this sounds to me like there has to be more to this than meets the eye. Being that this was in Pittsburgh, it's not like there wouldn't have been other non-Catholic hospitals to send me to if they were against caring for women with PROM. I went on to have three other pregnancies where in each of those I also had PROM due to an incompetent cervix from being a DES daughter and in those cases where the babies were 36, 31 and 30 weeks respectively, fortunately they were able to induce labor and the babies were far enough along to survive.


Lynn and Lee...

Lynn, you sound very naive and ignorant.

Lee, my 28 year old daughter had just that this last may, an emergency abortion. She was pregnant with their much wanted second child. The baby had attached in her uterine cesarean scar in such a way that her uterus was going to rupture. The baby had also embedded itself inside of her uterine wall. I don't know all of the exact words to use for you to get the picture but the doctors involved are writing a journal paper on it as no one had seen this exact thing before. They could only find 4-5 references in all of the medical journals. They immediately hospitalized her and got two teams together along with a stand-by transfusion team to do the surgery the next day. The only reason they waited a day was so they could figure out a way to even do the surgery and keep her uterus.

She didn't go to the hospital for an emergency, she was sent there after her first ultrasound showed that something was very wrong. The point being that she didn't have a chance to choose which hospital she was sent to, she was sent to a certain hospital. Luckily it wasn't catholic. But perhaps they had that issue already in mind, probably.

I agree with you completely on the EMTALA, I think the hospitals are covered legally. Unless, that is, the closest hospital she could be transferred to is too far for timely treatment. Then I think they might not have a choice. Or perhaps the emergency is to acute to effectively stabilize. In that circumstance they would have to treat her.

Sometimes it really sucks being a woman.


Hasn't anyone heard of Savita Halappanavar? She's the woman in Ireland who died after being denied an abortion to save her life. It was from PROM. Here's a quote from the Wikipedia arrival about her:

"Mortality due to maternal sepsis is the leading cause of maternal death in other countries including Britain and its rate is increasing. Severe sepsis and septic shock are major worldwide healthcare problems, affecting millions of people, leading to a mortality rate of one in four, and is increasing in incidence worldwide. Studies have found that survival rates following sepsis are related to early recognition and initiation of treatment.[27]"

Here's the article:

This is a very real issue. Thank you ACLU


I think the article and comments say it all. ACLU is all about making money off of someone's misfortune. Something bad happened to you, like a miscarriage, sue the doctor and hospital. Did you get hurt resisting arrest after committing a crime, sue the police officer and municipality. ACLU is a hoax made to make money while destroying America. If they were truly interested in Liberty and Justice they would be protecting conscience rights, not destroying them! May Our Lady of Guadalupe return to the Americas and convince people of good will to stop the genocide of the unborn, just like she stopped human sacrifices in Mexico in the 16th century. The extremely few cases of pregnancy complications resulting in danger to the health of the mother do not justify the killing of millions of healthy babies. My wife had two miscarriages and was never in any danger, but the scraping of the uterus after the first miscarriage was directly responsible for the second as it prolapsed her uterus. Had she let nature take its course instead of listening to her OBY/G our eighth baby would have been born perfectly fine. This was the same OBY/G who swore our first child was going to be born severely deformed because prenatal sugar levels and suggested we consider an abortion. That child is perfectly healthy in her second year of college with a 3.95 GPA. No we didn't sue, we mourned the loss of two children and thanked God for seven healthy children.

Bruce Barron

And was the outcome of these episodes? Did anyone die?
As for the Bishops they are the only ones qualified to state whether an act is right or wrong providing they hold fast to the teaching of the magisterium.
Creation occurs because of divine intervention and that same divine cause caused the Catholic to be and has given her absolute say over matters of faith and moral in which she cannot err. Consequently no one working in a Catholic hospital can act opposite to something that is morally and intrinsically wrong. And her teachings on this are binding on all men and women.
So what exactly was the health damage done. The article is far from complete and biased.


I find it ironic that a Catholic hospital in Colorado, sued for wrongful death of twins that were 7 month fetuses, used the legal defense that they couldn't be sued because the fetuses weren't "people". I guess they're only "persons" when it doesn't involve money.


Indirect abortion is the foreseen but merely permitted evacuation of a fetus which cannot survive outside the womb. The evacuation is not the intended or directly willed result, but the side effect, of some legitimate procedure. As such it is morally allowable.
there's clearly some disconnect. Catholics do believe in the sanctity of life for all, that includes the mother. These doctors were not being told to leave the mother's life at risk. That would be against Catholic teaching also.
Think about it, C-sections happen all the time and premies are saved. What could possibly put the mother at life risk that would require the killing of the unborn child in the womb? Nothing.
Perhaps all sides need to be told in this kind of article.


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