The Corner

In Michigan, a Small but Meaningful Victory for Conscience Rights

In Michigan, the Catholic Church and religious health-care workers have won a small victory for conscience rights. A federal court last week rejected an ACLU lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops (USCCB), filed on behalf of Tamesha Means, who claimed the Catholic hospital Mercy Health Partners should have been required to provide her with an abortion when she was in the process of miscarrying. The suit asserted that an abortion would have been safer for Means than a natural miscarriage and alleged that, because of the Catholic health care system’s policy of never performing a direct abortion, Mercy “denied appropriate medical care” to Means.

But last Thursday, federal judges of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the ACLU, upholding an earlier decision to dismiss the case. According to Judge Robert Holmes Bell, who first dismissed the case in 2015, his court did not have jurisdiction over the USCCB. (The suit was brought against the USCCB because it is the body that prohibits Catholic hospitals from performing abortions, as abortion contradicts Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of all human life.) Bell also said Means’s demand for an abortion would “impermissibly intrude upon ecclesiastical matters.”

From last week’s circuit court order affirming Bell’s ruling:

Means alleges — and we do not doubt — that she suffered physical and mental pain, emotional injuries, a riskier delivery, shock and emotional trauma from making funeral arrangements for her dead child, and other ‘discomforts and pain.’ But these allegations are not sufficient to state an injury under Michigan negligence law.

This ruling is a clear victory for Catholic health care entities across the country, which have come under frequent fire in recent years for refusing to provide “reproductive services” such as abortion, sterilization, and contraception. As I have reported for National Review, a number of states have enacted legislation forcing health-care workers to violate their religious consciences by participating in or referring clients to “reproductive care” to which they are morally opposed.

While rulings such as this one are undoubtedly a victory for religious freedom, it is essential to enact federal protections for the conscience rights of health-care workers such as the Conscience Protection Act, which passed Congress in July and is awaiting President Obama’s signature. It seems unlikely that the president will approve this legislation, but that shouldn’t stop conservatives from continuing their efforts to preserve a flourishing civil society that ensures religious freedom for all.

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