October 25, 2016

CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan today filed a government complaint against a Catholic health care provider that refused medically necessary treatment to a pregnant woman on religious grounds.

The woman had a life-threatening brain tumor, and her request to have a tubal ligation — commonly known as having her “tubes tied” — at the time of her scheduled cesarean section was denied because her local hospital follows the directives of the Catholic Church rather than medical best practices.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights against Ascension Health, the largest non-profit health system in the United States and the largest Catholic health system in the world, and its subsidiary Genesys Health System.

When Jessica Mann was pregnant with her third child, her OB-GYN strongly recommended that she undergo a tubal ligation because of a pre-existing brain tumor that could be life-threatening when strained by pregnancy. Her doctor also advised her to have the procedure performed at the time of her C-section delivery, when it is safest and most effective.  But Genesys refused to allow Mann’s OB-GYN to perform the tubal ligation because Ascension and Genesys are governed by religious rules developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that classify common reproductive health services as “intrinsically evil.”

The ACLU’s complaint argues that Ascension and Genesys’s policy banning tubal ligations at the time of delivery discriminates against Mann and similar women on the basis of sex. Tubal ligation is an extremely safe and effective method of birth control currently used by nearly 10 million women in the United States.  The ACLU is asking HHS to take steps to ensure that Ascension and Genesys adhere to the non-discrimination protections guaranteed by Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

“At a time when I should have been focused on getting ready to bring my baby into the world, I instead had to frantically search for a new doctor and a new hospital to get the care I needed to protect my life, because the local hospital where I had been a patient for fifteen years forbid it,” said Mann. “I don’t want other women to be turned away from hospitals that let their religious views trump their patients’ serious medical needs.” 

“Jessica Mann and women around the country should not live in fear of being denied essential health care by hospitals that place religious beliefs over medical standards,” said Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Today, one in six hospital beds in the United States is in a Catholic hospital. The federal government must enforce anti-discrimination laws so that these hospitals don’t endanger the health of the women who walk through their doors.”

In a related case in California, the ACLU is representing Rebecca Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health in a lawsuit against Dignity Health for likewise prohibiting doctors from providing tubal ligations at the time a woman gives birth.   

In addition, the ACLU recently sought to intervene in a case led by Texas and a Catholic health system, Franciscan Alliance, who are challenging the regulations that implement Section 1557, the federal anti-discrimination law under which today’s complaint was filed.    

In May, the ACLU published a report detailing first-hand accounts from women, including Mann, who were denied appropriate medical care because of these Catholic directives, as well as doctors who have been forbidden from providing life-saving care to women because of these religious rules. To read the report, go to: https://www.aclu.org/feature/health-care-denied.

The full complaint can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/complaint-behalf-jessica-mann-and-aclu

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