Is this really about women's health? The ACLU's latest tiff with Catholic hospitals

By Mary Rezac

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The American Civil Liberties Union's claims that Catholic hospitals are denying emergency care to pregnant women in the U.S. is not about healthcare – it's about forcing religious groups to perform abortions, critics say.

A recent ACLU report finds that one out of every six beds in the country's acute care hospitals is in a hospital with Catholic affiliations and that Catholic hospitals make up 15 percent, or 548, of the country's hospitals. The report claims that because these hospitals follow Church teaching in regards to reproductive care, they put women at risk.

All Catholic hospitals operate under the U.S. Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which ban abortion, sterilization, and emergency contraception or tubal ligations.

Marie Hilliard, the director of public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told the Guardian that if the directives are properly followed, a woman’s life should not be at risk.

“If the directives are properly applied, there should be no compromise of the wellbeing of human beings,” Hilliard said.

The ACLU has long opposed Catholic hospitals operating according to Catholic teaching. The ACLU and the group the MergerWatch Project co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.” In 2015, the ACLU sued Trinity Health Corporations, one of the largest Catholic health care operations in America, located in the Detroit area, for their refusal to perform abortions and tubal ligations. The lawsuit was dismissed.

Dr. Thomas Hilgers is the founder and director of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction and a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Creighton University School of Medicine. He said that the latest report from the ACLU is another attempt by the group to impose their views on Catholic hospitals, especially in regards to abortion.

“They're constantly imposing their value system on the rest of us, and to me that's just unconscionable,” he told CNA/EWTN News.

“What they’re trying to do in a lot of ways is get rid of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church has been their target for a long time, even though the Catholic Church has been a leader in healthcare over the years. There’s lots of Catholic hospitals around taking care of people who can't pay their bills and really providing good medical care, but that doesn’t make any difference to (the ACLU).”

The pro-abortion mentality has also skewed the way reproductive medicine and obstetrics have developed, Dr. Hilgers added. Once abortion and contraception became legal, many doctors started using them as solutions to treat symptoms, rather than looking into the the underlying problems women were experiencing, and diagnosing and treating those diseases.

“We practice Catholic medicine where, if a woman is bleeding at 18 weeks of pregnancy, the first and foremost cause of bleeding like that is someone who has a subclinical infection inside the uterus,” he said.

“I take patients at 18 weeks pregnant who are bleeding and I give them the right antibiotic, and within 24 hours the bleeding stops. You give them the antibiotic for 10 days, and they go full term. And yet if I were to say that to a group of say specialists in obstetrics, they would deny that, because all of these years, as a result of the pro-abortion mentality, they haven’t really look at the underlying causes except on a limited scale.”

Instead, he said, they will opt to induce a woman or perform an abortion without first diagnosing the underlying cause of the bleeding.

Ashley McGuire, a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, said that the ACLU must not be too concerned with women’s health if it is trying to attack a significant portion of healthcare services available in the United States.

“If the ACLU is so concerned about women's health, then why are they constantly suing and harassing one of the largest providers of healthcare to women in America?” she told CNA/EWTN News in e-mail comments.

“The ACLU has been trying to force Catholic healthcare professionals to perform abortions for a long time, which suggests that their endgame is really about forcing everyone into complicity with abortion, as opposed to actually providing women with lifesaving care, something the nation's largest non-governmental hospital system knows a thing or two about.”

Ultimately, Dr. Hilgers said, this report and others from the ACLU attacking the Catholic Church are an attack on religious freedom.

“The bottom line to me it seems is that if you look at the Constitution of the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution has as its first priority, above free speech, above regressive grievances, above freedom of the press, is making no law respecting either establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” he said.

“Catholics and other religions have lived that out over the years because that’s what this country was founded on, and it was established that you could freely practice your faith and your religion. And if somebody wants that kind of care (that goes against Catholic teaching) then you can always go someplace else.” 

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