Care of pregnant women in Catholic hospitals
by Fr. Tad Pacholczyk
At the beginning of December, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a sweeping federal lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over its Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic hospitals, alleging that the directives, with their prohibition against direct abortion, resulted in negligent care of a pregnant woman named Tamesha Means.
Ms. Means’ water broke at 18 weeks, leading to infection of the amniotic membranes, followed by spontaneous labor and delivery of her child. The child lived only a few hours.
During the course of these events, Ms. Means went to a Catholic hospital in Michigan several times, and, according to the lawsuit, was sent home even as contractions were starting.
The lawsuit not only suggests that she should have been given a drug to induce labor early on, but claims this wasn’t possible precisely because the hospital was Catholic and bound by the directives.
It further asserts that Catholic hospitals are not able to terminate a woman’s pregnancy by inducing premature labor “even if necessary for her health,” because to do so would be “prohibited” by the directives.
What the directives actually say
In point of fact, however, the directives would not prevent the early induction of labor for these cases. Not infrequently, labor is induced in Catholic hospitals in complete conformity with the directives.
Directive #47 (never mentioned in the lawsuit) is very clear: “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.”