Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded Friday to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that Catholic health directives encourage poor treatment of pregnant women by not allowing abortion.
The ACLU is suing the USCCB on behalf of Tamesha Means, who suffered a miscarriage at a Catholic hospital in Michigan.
According to the ACLU, "Tamesha rushed to Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan, when her water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy. Based on the bishops' religious directives, the hospital sent her home twice even though Tamesha was in excruciating pain; there was virtually no chance that her pregnancy could survive, and continuing the pregnancy posed significant risks to her health."
The USCCB is being sued because, according to the suit, its directives prevented Means from getting an abortion, and thus the bishops are responsible for "unnecessary trauma and harm."
"The directives prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination, even when there is little or no chance that the fetus will survive, and the life or health of a pregnant woman is at risk. They also direct health care providers not to inform patients about alternatives inconsistent with those directives even when those alternatives are the best option for the patient's health," the ACLU says.
"The ERDs ("Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services") urge respectful and compassionate care for both mothers and their children, both during and after pregnancy," Kurtz said.
The ERDs are, indeed, consistent with Catholic teaching about abortion, Kurtz added, "a defense that, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, 'is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right' (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 213)."
Kurtz also reminded that the Church's commitment to life is what motivated them to establish hospitals in the first place.
"This same commitment to the life of each human individual has motivated Catholics to establish the nation's largest network of nonprofit health care ministries. These ministries provide high-quality care to women and children, including those who lack health coverage and financial resources. The Church's rejection of abortion also mirrors the Hippocratic Oath that gave rise to the very idea of medicine as a profession, a calling with its own life-affirming moral code."
The ACLU's lawsuit accuses the USCCB of negligence, and seeks civil penalties, for upholding the dignity of all human life, Kurtz added.
"The Church holds that all human life, both before and after birth, has inherent dignity, and that health care providers have the corresponding duty to respect the dignity of all their patients," he said. "This lawsuit argues that it is legally 'negligent' for the Catholic bishops to proclaim this core teaching of our faith. Thus, the suit urges the government to punish that proclamation with civil liability, a clear violation of the First Amendment."