Responding to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) request for a government investigation into and action against Catholic hospitals which refuse to provide abortions, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has said it will offer pro bono legal help to any hospital or individual threatened for refusing to perform an abortion.
In a July 1 letter the ACLU wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), claiming that religiously-affiliated hospitals’ refusal to provide abortions violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and the Conditions of Participation of Medicare and Medicaid.
“Religiously affiliated hospitals across the country inappropriately and unlawfully deny pregnant women emergency medical care,” the ACLU claimed.
The ACLU letter also highlighted the disciplinary action taken against Sr. Margaret Mary McBride, who approved a direct abortion at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix and was later removed from her hospital post and declared excommunicated.
In response, the Beckett Fund sent an Aug. 19 letter to the HHS saying that legal conscience protections have been in existence for decades. It argued that the ACLU misinterprets the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.
“We will represent, pro bono, any religious hospital or its personnel that HHS threatens because of their conscientious objection to abortion,” commented Beckett Fund president Kevin “Seamus” Hasson. "And we will, if necessary, sue to block any such proposed policy."
“The ACLU has no business radically re-defining the meaning of ‘emergency health care’,” Hasson declared, “just as it has no business demanding that religious doctors and nurses violate their faith by performing a procedure they believe is tantamount to murder. Forcing religious hospitals to perform abortions not only undermines this nation’s integral commitment to conscience rights, it violates the numerous federal laws that recognize and protect those rights.”
Hasson argued that forcing Catholic or other religiously-affiliated hospitals to perform abortions will only result in nationwide closures and reduce access to healthcare for everyone. Legally forcing doctors and nurses to perform abortions would also impact religious freedom, he added.
Direct abortion is always prohibited by Catholic teaching and efforts to treat or cure a pregnant mother in a dangerous situation can take place only when her unborn child’s possible death is indirect and unintended.
While the ACLU’s July 1 letter focused on women with severe health conditions, in the past the organization has advocated restricting the general ability of Catholic hospitals and other institutions to refuse to perform procedures they find objectionable, such as sterilizations or abortions.
In a 2002 report titled “Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights,” the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project argued that concerns for individual religious belief and institutional religious worship should be “balanced” with protections for “reproductive health,” patient autonomy, and “gender equality.”
“The law should not permit an institution’s religious strictures to interfere with the public’s access to reproductive health care,” the report’s executive summary argued.