After Catholic Hospital Denies Woman's Birth Control Procedure, Atheists Want 'Right to Know' Act

A hospital in Grand Blanc, Mich., which denied a birth control procedure to a pregnant woman suffering from a brain tumor is under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Atheists, a group that now wants federal legislation to prevent similar situations in the future.

On Sept. 21, the ACLU wrote a letter to Genesys Health System, a Catholic hospital, after it denied a procedure known as tubal ligation, or the severing or blocking of a female's fallopian tubes, to 33-year-old Jessica Mann. She requested the procedure be completed at the same time as a cesarean section delivery she had scheduled for the next month.

The ACLU asked the hospital to reconsider the decision. In a letter to the hospital, the ACLU of Michigan's staff attorney, Brooke Tucker, said the hospital – in spite of its Catholic views on birth control and sterilization – has no right to deny the medical procedure to Mann, who has had other children at the hospital. Tucker said the policy against sterilization was only implemented in 2014.

"Within a time span of less than a year, Genesys has transformed from being a hospital that a pregnant women could rely on to obtain safe treatment to one that intentionally places such women in harm's way," the letter said. "This discrimination by your hospital is not only unlawful, it is intentional and callous."

Tucker said if the hospital did not reconsider, the ACLU would contact the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. She also said they would likely take the case to court.

Four days later, the hospital's vice president for administration, Andy Kruse, responded to the letter. He noted, claiming that Genesys Health System is a Catholic facility that follows "the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities," that the hospital would not, as a result, be able to perform a sterilization procedure. Kruse also said Mann had arranged to have the procedure at a different hospital.

Now, however, the American Atheists, a group founded in 1963 following the Murray v. Curlett Supreme Court case that removed prayer from public schools, wants government legislation to require health care providers – specifically those with religious affiliations – to inform patients, insurance companies and government agencies what procedures they will not perform because of religious belief.

"Patients must be able to make fully informed decisions about their health care," said Amanda Knief, national legal and public policy director for American Atheists, and author of the bill. "This legislation would help patients get the information they need to navigate the increasingly complicated—and increasingly religious—health care marketplace."

According to the group, there are currently no state or federal laws that require a hospital to disclose its religious objections to certain procedures before a patient is admitted for treatment.

"Religious hospitals account for more than 17 percent of all hospital beds in the United States, and religiously based hospitals, physicians, and other health care entities treat more than 1 in 6 Americans each year," the group said in a statement.

"This is about disclosure, not about forcing providers to do anything they have a religious objection to. If a religiously affiliated hospital or health care provider has some objection to providing birth control, access to cancer therapies that could result in sterilization, mental health services, or hormone replacement therapy, they can continue to opt out of providing those services. What they can't do is pull a bait and switch on patients and potential patients," Knief said.

The group also made a draft of their proposed legislation available online. In it, the group – which claims it wants an absolute, total separation between government and religion – is asking religiously-based medical centers to inform the government what procedures they will not cover, by the force of law. Rather than an entanglement, however, the atheist group claims the model "balances the religious liberty of health care providers with the basic health care rights of their patients."

"This act requires that any health care provider who uses religious beliefs to determine patient care instead of standard medical guidelines and practices, subsequently resulting in any health care options being omitted or favored based on these religious beliefs, to inform patients in writing of health care services that are not available to the patients through this particular provider; patients must provide signed consent acknowledging they have received this information."

This article was originally published in Christian Examiner. 

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