Tamesha Means sought care from Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon three separate times in December 2010 when she began suffering miscarriage symptoms 18 weeks into her pregnancy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Michigan, which are backing the lawsuit.
Means, then 27 and a mother of two, sought care at Mercy Health Partners — the only hospital in her county — after her water broke prematurely. She was given medication and sent home twice in two days, she claims in the suit, though she arrived the second time “bleeding and with painful contractions.”
On a third trip to the hospital, Means was in even more pain and “suffering a significant infection,” according to the ACLU, and was about to be sent home again when she began going into labor.
The baby was delivered feet-first and survived only a few hours.
Means’ lawsuit claims hospital staff failed to advise her on options for terminating the pregnancy and misled her on her baby’s likelihood of survival because of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ anti-abortion stance, resulting in her “severe, unnecessary, and foreseeable physical and emotional pain and suffering.”
The complaint against USCCB and several current and former officials of Catholic Health Ministries, filed Nov. 29, also alleges “at least five” other instances in which the hospital failed to induce labor in other women who miscarried before the fetus was viable.
Mercy Health Partners and other Catholic-run hospitals are governed by the USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives” for medical care. The ACLU contends the rules often prevent doctors from giving patients the information they need when it conflicts with Catholic beliefs. In Means’ case, according to the complaint, this endangered her life.
The hospital failed to inform Means that “due to her condition, the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of surviving, and continuing her pregnancy would pose a serious risk to her health,” the lawsuit reads. “MHP also did not tell Ms. Means that it would not terminate her pregnancy, even if necessary for her health, because it was prohibited from doing so by the Directives.”
“Each time I went into the hospital, the same thing happened,” Means said in a statement released by ACLU. “They should act like it’s their mother or sister or daughter they’re treating. I pray to God someone stops this from happening again. My life could have been taken. I was in a very dangerous situation.”
“They didn’t offer me any options,” she also said. “They didn’t tell me what was happening to my body.
“Whatever was going on with me, they discussed it amongst themselves. I was just left to wonder, what’s going to happen to me?”
The hospital issued a no comment to media outlets regarding the lawsuit, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also declined to comment.
A 2012 University of Chicago study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found 52% of ob-gyns working in Catholic-affiliated institutions reported having had a conflict with their institution over religion-based policies.
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