A recent letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to investigate and take action against Catholic hospitals who refuse to provide abortions. However, critics have said that the letter misrepresents the Church's teaching in its claim that Catholic hospitals are violating their patients' right to health care.
Analysts of the letter also told CNA, any law or regulation requiring Catholic hospitals to perform abortions would disregard the rights of conscience that the Obama administration has promised to uphold.
The ACLU letter, dated July 1, claims that refusal by religiously affiliated hospitals to provide abortions is a violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and the Conditions of Participation of Medicare and Medicaid.
The letter states, “Religiously affiliated hospitals across the country inappropriately and unlawfully deny pregnant women emergency medical care.” The ACLU also highlights the recent demotion of Sr. Margaret Mary McBride for facilitating an abortion at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. The letter claims that although the abortion was performed, disciplinary actions taken against Sr. McBride, as well as the statement of opposition by the diocese, discourages hospital employees from fulfilling their legal duties.
In addition, the ACLU lists several other examples of Catholic hospitals not providing “reproductive services” to women. According to the legal organization, the hospitals' “refusal to provide timely reproductive health care to pregnant women seriously threatens their health and lives.”
CMS spokeswoman Ellen Griffith confirmed to CNA that the letter was received and is currently being reviewed to decide what action, if any, will be taken.
Experts in bioethics and law have responded to the letter by saying that it both attacks and misrepresents Catholic teaching by depicting it as though it forbids any attempt to save the life of pregnant mothers.
Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, explained that while direct abortion is always prohibited by Catholic teaching, the Church permits efforts to treat or cure the mother, even if such efforts may result in the indirect and unintentional death of the unborn child. The principle of double effect holds that because the child's loss of life is neither direct nor intentional, it is not morally wrong.
“In fact, some of the conditions cited in the letter would have allowed an 'indirect abortion' in a Catholic hospital which permits a physician to address a current and serious pathology which might indirectly result in the foreseen but unintended death of the child,” Dr. Haas told CNA.
He referenced the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" of the U.S. bishops. Directive 47 states that “Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Society, told CNA that requiring Catholic hospitals to facilitate abortions would violate fundamental rights of conscience.
“Catholics should view the ACLU's letter as heralding nothing less than a new onslaught of attacks against the Church's core teachings that human life is sacred from conception to natural death, that procured or directly intended destruction of a viable fetus by abortion is never morally permissible, and that those who participate or materially aid in such acts per se put themselves out of communion with the Church,” Brejcha explained.
“ACLU's advocacy that abortions are sometimes necessary to 'save a life' and its contention that reproductive health care may require the killing of unborn human beings should provoke an enlightened, invigorated and sustained response from Catholics and others who believe that every human life is endowed with an inviolable right to life,” he insisted.
“Direct killing of defenseless human beings is evil,” Brejcha maintained. “No law now requires that those who abhor such killing must nonetheless engage in it, and advocacy of such a law in utter disregard for rights of conscientious objection must be repulsed and rejected in the strongest possible terms as both inhumane and unconscionable.”
“President Obama promised in his notorious Commencement speech at Notre Dame in May, 2009, to protect fundamental rights of conscience,” he added. “He and his Administration must be held to honor that pledge. America's distinguished legacy of Catholic health care must not be sacrificed in deference to the abortion lobby.”