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Complaint: Mich. hospital denied ill woman’s procedure

The Detroit News

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Michigan chapter filed a complaint with the government Tuesday, alleging that a major Catholic health care provider refused medically necessary treatment to a seriously ill pregnant woman on religious grounds.

Jessica Mann, a social worker from Flushing, had a life-threatening brain tumor while pregnant last year, the group said in its filing with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights.

As advised, Mann requested to have an obstetrician perform a tubal ligation after her scheduled cesarean-section delivery, when the sterilization procedure is considered safest and most effective, at Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, according to the ACLU.

However, the request was denied because the hospital, where she delivered two other children, “follows the directives of the Catholic Church rather than medical best practices,” group officials said in a statement Tuesday.

“At a time when I should have been focused on getting ready to bring my baby into the world, I instead had to frantically search for a new doctor and a new hospital to get the care I needed to protect my life, because the local hospital where I had been a patient for 15 years forbid it,” Mann said in the release. “I don’t want other women to be turned away from hospitals that let their religious views trump their patients’ serious medical needs.”

Genesys is part of Ascension, considered the world’s largest Catholic health system. Its healthcare division includes 141 hospitals and more than 30 senior living facilities in 24 states as well as the District of Columbia, according to the website.

The Catholic Church, in keeping with its anti-abortion philosophy, bans birth control including sterilization procedures.

In a statement Tuesday, Ascension representatives said: “As a Catholic healthcare system, we follow the ethical and religious directives of the Church. Beyond that, we can’t comment on this patient’s particular case.”

ACLU argues that the Ascension and Genesys policy on tubal ligations at the time of deliveries discriminated against Mann and other women. The group is asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to take steps to ensure the health care system follows the non-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act.

“Jessica Mann and women around the country should not live in fear of being denied essential health care by hospitals that place religious beliefs over medical standards,” Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Tuesday. “Today, nearly one in four hospital beds in Michigan is in a Catholic hospital. The federal government must enforce anti-discrimination laws so that these hospitals don’t endanger the health of the women who walk through their doors.”

The ACLU has noted similar cases elsewhere. The group is heading a California woman’s case against a health system for allegedly prohibiting tubal ligations during birth and has also represented a Muskegon woman reportedly denied appropriate care at a Catholic-run hospital when she had pregnancy complications.