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Act Now: Tell Kathleen Sebelius to Ensure Access to Abortions at Religiously Affiliated Hospitals

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 14, 2010

Earlier this month, the ACLU asked the federal government to ensure that religiously affiliated hospitals provide emergency reproductive health care as required by the Emergency Medical Conditions and Women in Labor Act and the Conditions of Participation for hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds (PDF). Our letter was prompted by a situation in Phoenix, Arizona, where St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, a Catholic-owned hospital, provided a life-saving abortion to a young mother of four who was dying from pulmonary hypertension.

The hospital’s Ethics Committee determined that her physicians would be permitted to perform the abortion under the Ethical and Religious Directives under which Catholic hospitals operate. Though the hospital provided the necessary care in this instance, the Catholic hierarchy — via the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (PDF) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix (PDF) — subsequently issued statements denouncing the emergency abortion, and making clear that abortion can essentially never be performed at a Catholic hospital. This means that the next woman who enters a Catholic hospital in need of an emergency abortion could die. You can read more about the issue here and here.

We are now asking you to chime in too. Please send a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, asking her to investigate hospitals that refuse to provide emergency abortion care, and issue a bulletin making clear that refusing to provide this care violates federal law.

(Cross-posted to Feministing and RH Reality Check.)