Law & the Courts

‘Pro-Choice,’ Ha — The ACLU Went after Catholic Hospitals for Choosing against Abortion

(Luis Louro/Dreamstime)

If you still think that the American Civil Liberties Union favors choice, because it calls itself “pro-choice,” consider a lawsuit that a federal court dismissed in Michigan earlier this week. There the ACLU argued that pro-life doctors should be forced to perform abortions. It sounds unthinkable — denying doctors the right to practice medicine unless they are willing to take human lives and thereby violate their conscience — but it’s far from impossible.

Over the past few months, the ACLU has been blasting away at Trinity Health, a Catholic hospital network with a policy against performing abortions. That policy should not be a problem. Since Roe v. Wade, the conversation about abortion has been framed in terms of freedom: Under the Constitution, does a woman have the freedom to have an abortion? Does a doctor have the freedom to perform it? Those who advocate abortion rights say they’re for choice. So if a doctor, a nurse, or a hospital has chosen not to perform abortions and has made that decision public, so that women seeking an abortion know that they need to go elsewhere, everyone should be fine with that. It’s all between a woman and her doctor, right?

Not anymore.

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The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Trinity, alleging that its adherence to Catholic values—specifically, to health-policy directives published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — puts at least one member of the ACLU “at risk of suffering [severe] harm.” The ACLU’s solution? Force doctors and nurses in the Trinity system to perform abortions, regardless of their convictions or those of the hospital network’s administration. Lest your heartstrings be tugged by the ACLU narrative about harm, consider the substance of this claim. It’s backed up by no specific evidence. It could mean simply that a woman who lives in the vicinity of a Trinity Health hospital could become pregnant and could decide that she wanted an abortion at that particular facility.

And that’s how the federal judge who decided the lawsuit saw it. On Monday, weeks before oral arguments were scheduled to take place, Judge Gershwin E. Drain of the U.S. district court for Eastern Michigan dismissed the suit, calling the ACLU’s claims “dubious.” It’s tempting to follow suit and dismiss from our minds the agenda underlying the ACLU’s legal action. But we can’t afford to do that.

#share#Think about it: The ACLU argued that a hospital should require its doctors and nurses to perform abortions even if the hospital recognizes that a new human life begins at conception and holds that the moral weight of abortion is no less than that of taking the life of a born person. The playing field is shifting under our feet. This lawsuit wasn’t about “choice” at all; it was about ensuring that medical professionals can’t act on their beliefs if they clash with assumptions that are politically in vogue. Rather than invoke the old mantra that abortion is between a woman and her doctor, the ACLU did the opposite, arguing that the government should be involved in decisions for abortion by stipulating that others participate in them.

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A concerted effort is underway to shut out of public discourse, and out of business, people who believe in the sanctity of life and in dignity for all persons from conception through death. We don’t want to think about it — Catholic hospitals being made to provide abortions, and pro-life doctors and nurses being made to perform them — but we have to. The case that the ACLU brought in Michigan is only one example of the danger facing pro-life medical professionals.

Last fall, California enacted a law requiring workers at pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion and to refer women to abortion clinics in their area. By law, Churches in California must cover elective abortions (i.e., abortions for any reason, not just in cases of rape or to protect the health of the mother) in their health-insurance plans. Last month the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, in which seven pro-life organizations with no religious identity are resisting the HHS mandate that requires them to provide access to abortifacients in their health-care plans.

Pro-abortion-rights advocates talk about choice. The choice that pro-life medical professionals are now being forced to make is between working and following their conscience. The ACLU tipped its hand in the Trinity case. Let us keep in mind the cards we saw.


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