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Law & the Courts

Catholic Hospital Caves to ACLU, Agrees to Perform Sterilization

“Here I stand . . . but I can also move, if you like.” Via SFGate:

Facing a possible sex-discrimination lawsuit, a Catholic hospital in Redding reversed its position Monday and agreed to let a woman’s doctor sterilize her after she gives birth next month.

Mercy Medical Center, owned by Dignity Health of San Francisco, the state’s largest private health care company, had previously refused to allow Rachel Miller to undergo a tubal ligation, citing Catholic hospitals’ Ethical and Religious Directives against sterilization.

After attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union said they would file a discrimination suit if Miller was being denied pregnancy-based care” on religious grounds, the hospital notified her doctor that it was reconsidering based on additional information the physician had provided. On Monday, the deadline the lawyers had set for a response, the ACLU said Mercy Medical Center had agreed to the surgery.

Perhaps Miller’s physician did provide new information, and perhaps, with that information, Miller’s case did clear the high bar for sterilization set by the Ethical Religious Directives: “Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.”

But it’s hard to imagine. Far more plausible is that Mercy Medical Center did not want a lawsuit on its hands, so it caved.

Set aside the slippery slope down which Mercy Medical Center may now be rolling (i.e., If it permits direct sterilization, why not contraception? If contraception, why not . . . ? &c.). It should be obvious to anyone following the state of religious liberty in America at the moment that religious identity is no longer protected by default; to be maintained, it must be asserted. The anti-religious momentum of courts, lawmakers, government bureaucracies, and popular culture ensures that, when not under direct assault, religious liberty is still being eroded. Thus every time a religious institution capitulates, the whole edifice of religious liberty is weakened, and the battering rams are emboldened. No doubt the ACLU will bully Mercy Medical Center again, and will seek out other religious medical providers with weak spines. And no doubt it will find them.

And a last note: A representative from Mercy Medical Center said that its decision “would not affect any of its policies in the future, and that the hospital would always operate within the [Ethical and Religious Directives].” But, if this was a compromise on principle, who believes that? Mercy has shown that, when push comes to shove, it does not really believe what it says it believes. So it has not just betrayed the cause of religious liberty; it has betrayed its own mission.


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