A lawsuit against pro-life religions

A woman had a complication in her pregnancy that would normally (by today’s standards) be treated with an abortion, but she was in a Catholic hospital that did not give her that option.  So she is suing the hospital.  But that’s not all.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is handling her case, is also suing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the pro-life teaching that caused the hospital to not offer the abortion.

Columnist Seth Lipsky of the New York Post says that this represents a new front in the battle against religion:  Suing religious institutions themselves for the content of their beliefs.

Seth Lipsky, The ACLU sues to silence religions | New York Post:

Maybe the American “Civil Liberties” Union should sue the pope. It certainly is the logic of the astounding case it just filed in federal court in Michigan against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops — for steering a Catholic hospital away from abortions.

Welcome to the next front in the war against religion. The target is members of the clergy themselves, for hewing to their religion. If the ACLU gets its way in Michigan, not only priests could be in legal jeopardy. Also rabbis, pastors and imams.

The case in Michigan is being brought by one Tamesha Means, whose pregnancy miscarried when in the second trimester. She’s now suing the bishops for negligence because a Catholic hospital failed to offer to send her to have an abortion.

It’s not my purpose here to get into the question of whether the doctors and the hospital staff made the right decisions in the case of Tamesha Means. A miscarriage is a terrible thing, and she deserves love, support and respect. But so do the clergy who are trying to be faithful to what they deem to be religious law.

Means’ complaint says that she was 18 weeks pregnant when she showed an early sign of labor and rushed to the nearest hospital, which turned out to be Mercy Health Partners, a Catholic institution. She was sent home to see her regular doctor. She returned the next day with more signs of labor, only to be sent home again.

When she came back a third time, in her account, the facility was preparing to send her home again, even though she was exhibiting signs of infection. Then she “began to deliver.” The baby died shortly after it was born, and she was told she would need to make funeral arrangements.

Means’ complaint — the ACLU is representing her — faults the hospital for failing to tell her that “continuing her pregnancy would pose a serious risk to her health.” And for not telling her that, as the complaint puts it, “the safest treatment option was to induce labor and terminate the pregnancy.” Means survived.

But what about the baby? By the ACLU’s account, the baby had “virtually no chance of surviving.” My dictionary reports that the word “virtually” means not “absolutely” but “nearly, almost,” as in “almost, nearly, close to, verging on, just about” and even “roughly.”

Why in such circumstances would a Catholic bishop not make a bet on what he believes would be Divine providence?

The bishops haven’t yet given their own account, because the case was just filed. But it wouldn’t be surprising if it turns out that the hospital was prepared to take a risk in a case where there was a chance of the baby’s survival.

Means v. Bishops is by no means the only engagement in the battle over the responsibilities of religious hospitals, particularly in cases where a mother’s health is in jeopardy because of complications from a pregnancy. What is newsworthy about this case is the allegation against the whole Conference of Bishops for promulgating their religious directives for Catholic health care.

Is it going to be illegal in America for doctors to refuse to perform abortions? Is it going to be illegal for clergy to discourage women from having abortions? Is it going to be illegal for clergy to discourage doctors from performing abortions?

The complaint in the Michigan case names defendants who live far from Michigan, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Colorado, because they served as chairmen of Catholic Health Ministries. This is why the case makes one wonder whether it wouldn’t be more efficient for the ACLU to go after the pope — who is, after all, the ultimate arbiter within the Catholic Church of what religious law says.

Once the ACLU is done with the Catholic chain of command, who’s next? The chief rabbis of Israel this year issued a rare public statement likening abortion to “fetal murder.” Are they — or those who look to them for guidance — going to be fair game for the ACLU if a Jewish institution deems that the life of the mother is not in enough danger to send her to an abortion clinic?

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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