ACLU threatens action against Catholic hospital

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The American Civil Liberties Union threatened action Wednesday against a Grand Blanc Catholic hospital for refusing a seriously ill woman’s request to be sterilized during her scheduled C-section next month.

Jessica Mann, 33, of Flushing, has a life-threatening brain tumor and is 35 weeks pregnant, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Genesys Regional Medical Center — part of Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic health system — has refused to allow Mann’s obstetrician to perform a tubal ligation at the time of the cesarean procedure.

“As a Catholic healthcare system, we follow the ethical and religious directives of the Church,” Genesys spokeswoman Cindy Ficorelli said Wednesday in a statement. “Beyond that, we can’t comment on this patient’s particular case.”

The Roman Catholic Church, in keeping with its anti-abortion philosophy, bans all forms of birth control including sterilization procedures. ACLU of Michigan Attorney Brooke Tucker said Genesys previously allowed tubal ligations, but issued a letter formally banning the procedure on Nov. 1, 2014.

Mann has given birth to two children at Genesys and was unaware of the ban, Tucker said. Mann’s doctor recommended she have no more children following this pregnancy because of additional health risks posed by her brain tumor.

“Initially Mrs. Mann was not aware that Genesys was a Catholic hospital. She was receiving treatment for her brain tumor there,” Tucker said. “She had no reason to question.”

There is another non-Catholic hospital within driving distance of Mann’s home in Flushing, but she doesn’t want to find a new doctor this close to her delivery date, the lawyer said.

“Even though there’s another hospital nearby her doctor does not have privileges at the other hospital,” Tucker said. “She has to find and get comfortable with another facility for no legitimate reason.”

The ACLU sent Genesys a letter last week demanding the hospital make an exception in Mann’s case. The hospital denied the exception, Tucker said.

On Wednesday, the ACLU sent another letter saying the group will file formal complaints on Mann’s behalf with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs if the hospital doesn’t reverse it denial by this Friday.

Tucker said she informed state civil rights and regulatory officials about the ban in November after she was contacted by two Genesys physicians worried about denying the procedure to their patients.

“If Genesys doesn’t change its mind by Friday, then it will be time to hold the state’s feet to the fire and say ‘exercise your authority’ — tell Genesys it has to adhere to medical standards, period,” she said.