“This claim is baseless,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a Dec. 6 statement.
He explained that the Ethical and Religious Directives given to Catholic hospitals “urge respectful and compassionate care for both mothers and their children, both during and after pregnancy.”
On Nov. 29, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it had filed suit against the U.S. bishops' conference on behalf of Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman who was treated at Mercy Health Muskegon in 2010.
Means was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke. She made three emergency visits to the Catholic hospital, and on the third visit, delivered the baby, who died less than three hours after birth.
The ACLU claims that the hospital was negligent because it did not tell Means “that terminating her pregnancy was an option and the safest course for her condition.”
The legal group said the woman was in “excruciating pain” and the pregnancy posed “significant risks to her health.” She also suffered “extreme distress” and an infection that can cause infertility, the organization said.
The Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives, updated most recently in 2009, seek to affirm the lives of both women and their children. The guidelines prohibit the direct killing of an unborn child through abortion. However, they allow for operations, treatments and medications for a pregnant woman in order to treat a “proportionately serious pathological condition,” even if doing so results in the child’s unintentional death.
Archbishop Kurtz expressed sympathy for the loss of Means’ child.
Because the bishops were not directly involved in the case in question, they cannot comment on it specifically, he said, but they can respond to the claim that their affirmation of all human life amounts to negligence.
The rules provided by the Ethical and Religious Directives reaffirm the Church's teaching that “all human life, both before and after birth, has inherent dignity, and that health care providers have the corresponding duty to respect the dignity of all their patients,” Archbishop Kurtz explained, mirroring medical oaths that affirm the dignity of life.
This dedication to life and refusal to “approve the direct killing of their unborn children,” he continued, “has motivated Catholics to establish the nation’s largest network of nonprofit health care ministries.”
“These ministries provide high-quality care to women and children, including those who lack health coverage and financial resources,” the archbishop said, and they offer “a haven for pregnant women and their unborn children regardless of their financial resources.”
Furthermore, Archbishop Kurtz continued, the “universal and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on defending the life of the unborn child” is, as Pope Francis has said “linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”
“It witnesses against a utilitarian calculus about the relative value of different human lives,” the archbishop explained.
In claiming that it is “negligent” for the Catholic bishops to teach that all life is valuable, the ACLU's lawsuit “urges the government to punish that proclamation with civil liability, a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Kurtz said.
He promised that the “U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue to defend these principles in season and out, and we will defend ourselves against this misguided lawsuit.”
A lawsuit against the U.S. bishops for teaching Catholic hospitals not to perform direct abortions is “misguided” and unfounded, says the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, ACLU