Health system wins suit over emergency abortion policy

The Detroit News

Detroit — A judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday that accused a Catholic health system of violating federal law by refusing to provide emergency abortions for women suffering pregnancy complications.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain granted a motion filed by Livonia-based Trinity Health Corp. to toss out the complaint, filed in July by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The complaint alleged that lack of care led to women becoming septic, hemorrhaging, getting life-threatening infections and suffering pain.

Trinity argued the ACLU lacked standing to file the complaint on behalf of at least one woman who was refused care or on behalf of women who could be at risk during current or future pregnancies.

In his ruling, Drain said the ACLU did not provide enough specific proof of harm to its members to give the organization standing to sue.

“Therefore, even assuming that the complaint contains sufficient factual matter to establish past actual harm — considering the vagueness of the allegation, this is dubious — the allegations of past exposure to defendants’ illegal conduct is not sufficient to create standing,” he wrote.

Drain also said the ACLU’s claim that women could be harmed by Trinity’s policy against providing emergency abortions was speculative.

“In this case, Plaintiffs cannot guarantee that their pregnant member will experience complications, choose to get treated at Defendants’ hospitals, or even require hospitalization,” he wrote.

In a statement, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented several anti-abortion groups that joined the suit last month, called the ACLU’s suit an attempt to force Trinity to perform abortions against the Catholic health system’s beliefs.

“No law requires religious hospitals and medical personnel to commit abortions against their faith and conscience, and, in fact, federal law directly prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion,” ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot said.

In a statement Monday, ACLU staff attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said the dismissal of the case has “grave implications” for many pregnant women and their loved ones.

“It is important to recognize that the court’s decision says nothing about whether Trinity’s policies of withholding emergency abortions from women is lawful,” Kolbi-Molinas wrote. “We are considering next steps in this case and will continue to fight for pregnant women who are denied potentially life-saving care because doctors are forced to follow religious directives rather than best medical practices.”

In Michigan, Trinity Health operates the Mercy Health system and the Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.

Candice Williams contributed.