Skip to main content

ACLU, Michigan woman sue Catholic Bishops over hospital rules

By Dana Ford, CNN
updated 7:53 AM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The case centers around directives and a woman named Tamesha Means
  • Means was only 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke
  • The lawsuit alleges she was not told about treatment options, health risks
  • "It's just conceptually hard to get my mind around," the suit, says a law professor

(CNN) -- Tamesha Means' water broke early on December 1, 2010.

Just 18 weeks pregnant, she called a friend for a ride to Mercy Health Partners, the only hospital in Muskegon County, Michigan.

During that visit, and two others the following day, Means was in excruciating pain.

She was sent home twice -- given pain medication, told to return if her contractions became unbearable -- and was waiting to be discharged for a third time when she started to give birth.

Pope Francis' views a 'slight departure'

The baby died less than three hours after it was delivered.

That's all according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union last week, which also said that Means' fetus had almost no chance of surviving and continuing the pregnancy posed serious risks to her health.

Health care providers at the hospital knew those facts to be true, the suit alleges, but failed to tell Means about the risks and the option of ending her pregnancy because they follow directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which do not permit abortion.

"As a direct result of these religious Directives, Ms. Means suffered severe, unnecessary, and foreseeable physical and emotional pain and suffering," reads the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

It accuses the USCCB and others of negligence "for promulgating and implementing directives that cause pregnant women who are suffering from a miscarriage to be denied appropriate medical care, including information about their condition and treatment options."

It seeks damages and a declaration that the defendants' actions were negligent.

'Abortion ... is never permitted'

At the center of the case is what is known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services -- a set of guidelines that advises Catholic health care providers and patients what to do.

Specifically, the lawsuit mentions directives No. 27 and No. 45.

Directive 27 states: "Free and informed consent requires that the person or the person's surrogate receive all reasonable information about the essential nature of the proposed treatment and its benefits; its risks, side-effects, consequences, and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternatives, including no treatment at all."

The termination of a pregnancy would not be considered "morally legitimate," as outlined in directive 45.

"Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted," that directive reads.

Still, the USCCB is not standing by doctors, whispering in their ears, telling them what to do, said Robin Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois who focuses on bioethics, health law and religious liberty.

"You would have to show some sort of control, or agency, or direct duty in order to reach up to them. ... What I read didn't seem to make the linkages that I would have wanted to see," she said, adding that she thinks the case will be difficult for the ACLU to argue.

"Creative claims win sometimes. It's just conceptually hard to get my mind around it," Wilson said.

Don Clemmer, a spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, declined to comment on the Michigan case.

A call to Mercy Health Partners was not immediately returned Monday.

Opinion: Popular pope, but same old church

'It's about medical care'

Means' lawsuit raises issues similar to a recent case in Ireland.

There, a woman died after being denied an abortion last year.

Seventeen weeks pregnant, Savita Halappanavar, 31, went into a hospital complaining of back pain.

The doctors who examined her told her she was having a miscarriage but refused to do an abortion even though she was in extreme pain, her husband said.

Days later, Halappanavar died from a blood infection, leading lawmakers to call for an investigation into what role abortion laws may have played in her death.

"They knew they couldn't help the baby. Why did they not look at the bigger life?" her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, told the Irish Times.

According to the Michigan lawsuit, Means was diagnosed with preterm premature rupture of membranes. At the time she gave birth, she had acute chorioamnionitis and acute funisitis, infections she developed after her membranes ruptured.

Pregnant teen dies after abortion ban delays chemo treatment for leukemia

When left untreated, both can result in infertility and cause other problems, the lawsuit states.

It says that Means should have been told about her treatment options, including the termination of her pregnancy.

She also should have been told about the risks associated with continuing the pregnancy and that even if she decided to go ahead with it, there was virtually no chance the fetus would survive, the lawsuit says.

Had Means known the full extent of her condition, she would have opted to end the pregnancy, according to the lawsuit.

The ACLU filed the suit to get relief for Means and to make sure that what happened to her won't happen to other women, said Louise Melling, national deputy legal director at the ACLU.

"We care about the right to practice religion," she said. "But this case isn't about religious freedom. It's about medical care."

Irish Parliament passes exception to abortion ban

CNN's Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The U.S. and several Arab nations carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, intensifying the campaign against the militant group.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Her friends were raped and her brother was killed by ISIS, but 15-year-old "Aria" managed to escape.
updated 6:58 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Emma Watson lent her name and her glittery profile to the cause of feminism at the United Nations.
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
From Gadhafi to Ahmadinejad, Bush to Chavez: look back at memorable moments from past UNGA sessions. Richard Roth reports.
updated 3:41 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Just days after NASA's Mars orbiter reached the Red Planet, India's first mission could follow suit and make history.
updated 7:14 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Khorasan, al Qaeda's new branch, seeks new ways to attack America and Europe.
Alibaba officially became the biggest initial public offering of all time, confirming that in the final tally it raised $25 billion.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Do the Chinese really like to mix their Bordeaux with Coca-Cola?
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Cape Town native, Janine Davies is South Africa's first female rider to compete on a national level.
In the largely male-dominated world of the motorsport, South African super bike racer Janine Davies is an anomaly.
updated 7:30 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Lilongwe Wildlife Center houses over 200 animal victims and helps rehabilitate them back into the wild.
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT