A lawsuit charging that the U.S. bishops’ ethical standards for hospitals caused negligent care of a pregnant woman wrongly claims that abortion was medically necessary, a doctor and professor of medicine has said.
“Abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother,” said Dr. Brian C. Calhoun, a professor and vice-chair in the obstetrics and gynecology department at West Virginia University-Charleston.
Calhoun, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, rejected the deliberate killing of an unborn patient in a medical emergency.
“Abortion is not medicine. It is something else entirely,” he told CNA Dec. 2.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Nov. 29 filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of a Michigan woman named Tamesha Means.
Means was 18 weeks pregnant in 2010 when her water broke and she went to Mercy Health Muskegon, a Catholic hospital in Michigan. She made three emergency visits. On the third visit, she delivered the baby, who died less than three hours after birth.
The ACLU claims that 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.
While babies have not been known to survive outside of the womb before 21 weeks of pregnancy, an unborn baby at 18 weeks is significantly developed, about 5.5 inches long and seven ounces in weight, with a small human profile. The baby can make sucking motions with his or her mouth and can begin to hear, the Mayo Clinic website says. The mother can often feel the baby’s motions.
Calhoun said that patients such as Means may need to be delivered prematurely. Even if the premature baby ends up dying, this different from an abortion, in which a doctor directly and deliberately “kills the baby, usually by surgical dismemberment.”
He suggested that the lawsuit is an attempt “to make abortion seem like a great idea.” He noted that surgical abortions also have “numerous” complications, including bleeding, lacerations, incompetent cervix, and infection.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan, claims that because the U.S. bishops’ conference approved the ethical directives governing Catholic hospitals, the conference is “ultimately responsible for the unnecessary trauma and harm” that Means and other pregnant women have experienced at these hospitals.
The legal group opposes the Catholic directives, saying they tell health care provides not to inform patients about other alternatives even when they are the “best option for the patient’s health.”
Most recently updated in 2009, Catholic ethical and religious directives seek to affirm the life of all parties involved in a medical situation. They allow operations, treatments and medications for a pregnant woman to treat a “proportionately serious pathological condition” if these procedures and treatments cannot be postponed, “even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”
However, Catholic ethics bar the direct and intentional killing of an unborn baby through abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union has long backed legal sanctions against Catholic institutions that refuse to recognize what it considers “reproductive rights.” It has called for federal investigations of Catholic hospitals that refuse to perform abortions. In a 2002 report, the legal group’s now defunct Reproductive Freedom Project advocated restrictions on the ability of Catholic hospitals and other institutions to refuse to perform procedures they find objectionable, including sterilizations or abortions.
The ACLU is also a vigorous defender of the federal HHS mandate that requires many employers to provide sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause early abortions, in their employee health plans.
The mandate has been criticized for its narrow religious exemption, which fails to protect many religious ministries. The language for the exemption was based on a California law crafted by the ACLU specifically to counter Catholic institutions’ conscience protections, William J. Cox, president of the California-based Alliance of Catholic Health Care, told a subcommittee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2011.