Trinity Health seeks dismissal of lawsuit related to pregnancy services

A Michigan-based Catholic health care system planned to seek dismissal of a lawsuit by a civil liberties organization challenging the emergency services it provides to pregnant women.

Officials at Trinity Health Corp., of Livonia, Michigan, said in a statement that the system's 88 hospitals across the U.S. provide quality health care under the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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The lawsuit filed Oct. 1 contends that Trinity Health violates provisions of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and the Rehabilitation Act by denying the full range of emergency care, including pregnancy termination when necessary.

"A federal court already dismissed a similar ACLU claim, and we will seek dismissal of this suit for the same reason," the Trinity Health statement said. "The ethical and religious directives are entirely consistent with high-quality health care, and our clinicians continue to provide superb care throughout the communities we serve."

The Catholic Church opposes abortion. The directives state, "Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life 'from the moment of conception until death.'"

The civil liberties organization claims in the suit that health care decisions in Trinity Health's hospitals are made in accordance with the ethical and religious directives rather than on sound medical practice in violation of federal law.

"We're taking a stand today to fight for pregnant women who are denied potentially life-saving care because doctors are forced to follow religious directives rather than best medical practices," Brooke A. Tucker, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney, said in a statement. "Catholic bishops are not licensed medical professionals and have no place dictating how doctors practice medicine, especially when it violates federal law."

The suit contends that proper care must include abortion if it is the best possible procedure to save a woman's life or to ease severe pain and suffering when pregnancy complications arise. It cited cases in which women who were denied an abortion became seriously ill and suffered severe pain.

The case is the latest by the ACLU challenging Catholic hospitals on its practice of not terminating pregnancies or offering health services conflicting with church teaching on life.

An ACLU-backed lawsuit by a Muskegon, Michigan, woman who claimed that church doctrine caused her to receive improper care that led to a miscarriage in 2010 was dismissed in July by a federal court judge. The ACLU filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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