Reports Against Catholic Hospitals Trigger Lawsuit

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Complaints against Catholic hospitals filed with the U.S. government belong in the public record, the American Civil Liberties Union told a federal judge.
     According to the ACLU’s May 24 complaint, 1 in 6 U.S. hospital beds are in facilities that adhere to Catholic restrictions on care known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
     Even when the woman’s life or health is in danger, these directives prohibit doctors from providing reproductive health care including sterilization and abortion.
     Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, however, Medicare-participating hospitals that offer emergency services face specific obligations to provide a medical screening examination or treatment for an emergency medical condition, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.
     This law requires an appropriate transfer if a hospital cannot stabilize a patient.
     The ACLU cites an example of a Catholic hospital discharged one woman experiencing a miscarriage to the parking lot. She had to wait for a relative to pick her up and drive her to another hospital where she was treated for an emergency abortion and severe blood loss.
     Claiming it has evidence that people are filing complaints about these hospitals, the ACLU filed a request for such records in 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act.
     The ACLU says it wants Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services records from the last five years related to violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or violations of federal regulations related to pregnancy treatment at hospitals receiving federal funds, including instances of miscarriage, abortion and sterilization.
     To date, the agency has not produce any documents relating to allegations of improper care related to abortion or miscarriage.
     In addition to the three responsive documents that the ACLU already knows about, it “assumes that there are more responsive documents of which it is unaware,” according to the complaint.
     The ACLU says it did receive 139 pages from its FOIA request concerning consent to sterilization.
     Release of these documents helps ” the public can ascertain whether hospitals receiving federal funds are violating federal laws designed to protect patient health and safety,” according to the complaint.
     One exhibit to the complaint shows that a FOIA analyst for the agency withheld 11 pages of the 150 pages that were forwarded to him, pursuant to Exemptions 5 and 6 of the FOIA (5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(5) & (b)(6)).
     The ACLU complaint suggests that this withholding is a result of the agency failing to conduct the requisite segregability analysis. It says the documents should be released, even if they are exempt as a matter of discretion.
     A response to the ACLU’s October 2015 appeal remains pending, according to the complaint.
     The ACLU says the agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has exceed the statutory and regulatory time limitations to respond to its appeal.
     FOIA requires an appeals determination within 20 business days after receipt.
     A representatives for CMS said the agency does not comment on pending or active litigation.
     ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri filed the complaint.

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