Woman Denied Medical Care at Hospital Because of Religious Directives

September 8, 2016

CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court today issued a decision affirming a district court’s dismissal of the case of Tamesha Means, a woman denied emergency treatment for a miscarriage because her hospital was prohibited by religious directives from providing appropriate care. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan brought the case.

The narrow ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit does not foreclose similar suits brought by other women who are denied appropriate emergency care because of a hospital’s religious policies. The court ruled that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops could not be sued in Michigan. The court also held that Means’ suit could not go forward against the hospital defendants because, although “she suffered physical and mental pain, emotional injuries, a riskier delivery, shock and emotional trauma,” such injuries, the court ruled, are not sufficient to make out a claim under Michigan law absent a “present physical injury.” 

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, had this reaction:

“We’re disappointed in the court’s decision to prevent Tamesha’s case from moving forward. When Tamesha was 18 weeks pregnant and her water broke, she was subjected to extreme distress and infection after twice sent home from the only hospital in her county because of its Catholic affiliation and binding directives. Her suffering and trauma was a direct result of hospital policies drafted by non-medical professionals who let their religious doctrine trump patient care.

“While this is a deeply unjust result for Ms. Means, the court’s decision today in no way sanctions turning away women based on a hospital’s religiously based policies. Women have the right to know that when they go to an emergency room, their treatment will be determined based on their doctor’s best medical judgment and not a hospital’s religious restrictions.”

In May, the ACLU published a report detailing first-hand accounts from women and doctors of women who were denied appropriate medical care because of the Catholic Directives, the same directives that governed care at Means’ hospital. As the report explains, one in six hospital beds in the United States is in a facility where healthcare is governed by the Catholic Directives. In some states, more than 40 percent of all beds are in such a facility.

To read the report, go to: https://www.aclu.org/feature/health-care-denied

For more information on Means’ case, go to https://www.aclu.org/cases/tamesha-means-v-united-states-conference-catholic-bishops.

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