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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Catholic Hospital Need Not Do Tubal Ligation

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A California state judge tentatively rejected an expectant mother's lawsuit against a Catholic hospital that refused her request for a post-partum tubal ligation, which it calls "intrinsically evil."

Rebecca Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health sued Dignity Health and Mercy Medical Center Redding on Dec. 28 in Superior Court. Chamorro and her husband, who already have two children, asked for the procedure to be done after their third child is born at the end of January.

The hospital refused, saying "all forms of contraception and certain fertility treatment [are] 'intrinsically evil,'" according to the complaint.

Dignity Health, which describes itself as the fifth-largest healthcare provider in the United States and the largest hospital provider in California, "receives millions of dollars in funding each year from the state," Chamorro said.

Chamorro sought declaratory judgment that the hospital chain violated California civil rights laws, business and professions laws, and the Health and Safety Code, and an injunction.

But Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith denied the injunction in a tentative ruling on Jan. 13.

The discrimination claim is likely to fail because Dignity Health's sterilization policy "applies equally to men and women."

Also, Goldsmith wrote: "Plaintiff can obtain the desired procedure at other hospitals that do not follow defendant's directive."

Chamorro presented evidence that the only purpose of a tubal litigation was for contraception, and said the hospital had done tubal ligations before.

But Goldsmith found: "There is insufficient evidence in the record, however, to demonstrate that the prior tubal litigation procedures were solely for contraceptive purposes as opposed to curing or alleviating a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment was not available in accordance with the religious directives."

Tubal ligation aka "getting one's tubes tied," is a contraceptive method of choice for more than 30 percent of U.S. married women, according to the complaint. An estimated 600,000 U.S. women have the procedure done each year.

The hospital told Chamorro's doctor that the procedure did "not meet the requirement of Mercy's current sterilization policy or the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services."

The directives are promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and prohibit so-called "direct sterilization," along with abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, which are considered "intrinsically evil."

Mercy Medical Center Redding said in December that it could not discuss specific patients because of state and federal laws.

"In general, it is our practice not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health's Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services and the medical staff bylaws," the hospital said in a statement. "As such, tubal ligations are not performed in Catholic hospitals."

Plaintiffs' attorney Elizabeth Gill, with ACLU of Northern California, told Courthouse News the defendants' actions were a "real threat."

"The refusal of hospitals to allow doctors to perform basic health procedures based solely on religious doctrine presents a real threat to a woman's ability to access health care," Gill said.

"Patients seeking medical care from public institutions should not have to worry that religious doctrine rather than medical judgment will dictate what care they receive."

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