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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today sent a second letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) asking the agency to investigate potential denials and delays of emergency care at religiously-affiliated hospitals in violation of federal law, specifically the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and the Conditions of Participation of Medicare and Medicaid.
The letter follows Tuesday's decision by St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix to continue providing life-saving abortions when necessary despite pressure from the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to discontinue the practice. The Bishop of Phoenix stripped the hospital of his endorsement when St. Joseph's correctly defended its decision to provide a life-saving abortion to a young mother of four in need of emergency care last year and asserted that it would continue to provide life-saving services.
"The hospital did the right thing by upholding its obligations to provide necessary health care, but this incident just underscores the need for the government to make crystal clear that hospitals – regardless of religious affiliations – must provide necessary life-saving care to patients," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "A hospital's first duty is to its patients. No woman should ever have to be afraid that she will not receive the care she needs when she goes to a hospital."
The ACLU, citing the Arizona incident and other refusals of emergency care across the country, wrote to CMS officials in July alerting them to the potential violations of federal law by religiously-affiliated hospitals that refuse to provide emergency abortions and requesting an investigation. CMS officials replied that month by saying that they would look into the issues, but have not followed up since.
"The lives of women seeking emergency care should be a hospital's top priority," said Daniel Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. "Hospitals with a religious affiliation are often the only available hospitals in a particular area. All patients should be given the care they need regardless of their nearest hospital's affiliation."
A 2008 article in the American Journal of Public Health highlighted a worrying pattern of religiously-affiliated hospitals denying emergency reproductive care to patients. The article cites instances in which miscarrying women were forced to travel to another facility after religiously-affiliated hospitals refused to terminate their pregnancies, and a woman who was denied care until the moment her fetus' heartbeat stopped, placing her in grave peril.
"Religiously-affiliated hospitals are not exempt from federal law that requires them to provide emergency care to their patients," said Vania Leveille, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "The government must ensure that all hospitals that receive federal funding are in compliance with the law."
The ACLU's letter can be seen here: www.aclu.org/religion-belief-reproductive-freedom/aclus-second-letter-centers-medicare-and-medicaid-services-rega
The original letter to CMS, sent in July, can be seen here: www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/aclu-asks-government-ensure-religiously-affiliated-hospitals-provide-emergency-