Redding — The ACLU and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP today sent a letter demanding that Dignity Health, doing business as Mercy Medical Center Redding, a Catholic-affiliated hospital in California’s largest hospital network, stop unlawfully denying post-partum tubal ligation to patients based on religious doctrine.
The letter was sent on behalf of clients Lynsie Brushett and Rebecca Chamorro, two Redding women whose doctor requested and was denied permission to perform tubal ligations during their scheduled C-sections, and Physicians for Reproductive Health, a membership organization of doctors seeking to improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
“Here are two more women in the growing line of those who have been unlawfully denied reproductive health care by a hospital because of religious directives,” said Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “There is a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. Religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to hold religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care.”
In refusing to approve the doctor’s requests to perform tubal ligation, Mercy Medical cited religious directives written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which classify this common procedure as “intrinsically evil.” Mercy Medical is the only hospital with a labor and delivery ward in Redding. There are no other hospitals within a 70-mile radius that have birthing facilities and are not Catholic-affiliated.
Brushett, 30, is scheduled to give birth to her second child via C-section on March 26. She had a difficult first pregnancy and delivered her son three months premature. Because of this, she and her husband do not want to risk becoming pregnant again. She decided with her doctor to undergo a tubal ligation immediately following her C-section.
“I made the decision to have a tubal ligation with my family and my doctor, and no one else should be involved in that process,” said Brushett. “I hope that my case will help shine a light on this issue so that other women aren’t turned away.”
Tubal ligation, known familiarly as “getting one’s tubes tied,” is the contraceptive method of choice for more than 30 percent of U.S. married women of reproductive age. An estimated 600,000 women undergo this procedure each year. For women who want a tubal ligation, performing it immediately following delivery (or postpartum) is recommended practice and aligns with medical standards of care.
“As a board-certified OB/GYN with 14 years of experience, I can say with absolute confidence that postpartum tubal ligation is an incredibly common and safe method of contraception – especially for women who are already scheduled for a C-section,” said Dr. Pratima Gupta of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “The directives prohibiting direct sterilization ignore recommended medical practice. Unfortunately, these cases are neither surprising nor unique given the growth of the Catholic hospital system, which has left many women with very few places to turn for reproductive health care.”
Earlier this year, the ACLU sent a similar letter on behalf of Rachel Miller, a Redding woman who decided with her doctor to have a tubal ligation following the C-section birth of her second child. Under the threat of a lawsuit, the hospital allowed Miller to have the procedure.
Mercy Medical Center Redding, a publicly funded hospital, is part of Dignity Health, the 5th largest healthcare system in the country and the largest hospital provider in California, with 29 hospitals across the state. Ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic-sponsored, and nearly one of nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility.
ACLU letter to Dignity Health and Mercy Medical Center (Dec. 2, 2015)