Legal case tests religious hospitals’ right to deny procedures

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Rachel Miller, due to have her second child in late September, agreed with her husband that this would be her last pregnancy and decided she would be sterilized by tubal ligation after giving birth. But her hospital in Redding, owned by Dignity Health in San Francisco, refused to allow her doctor to perform the procedure, saying tubal ligation violates the ethical principles of Catholic health care facilities.

Now Miller’s case could become the springboard for a legal attack on barriers to reproductive procedures — other than abortions — at Catholic hospitals in California, whose numbers are steadily increasing.

“Hospitals that are open to the general public and that receive state money shouldn’t be able to use religion to discriminate or to deny important health care,” said Elizabeth Gill, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents Miller. She said the hospital receives state Medi-Cal funds as well as federal funding from both Medi-Cal and Medicare.

In an Aug. 17 letter to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Gill said the ACLU would go to court unless the hospital reversed course and authorized the sterilization procedure. By denying “pregnancy-related care” to Miller, Gill wrote, the hospital is discriminating on the basis of sex, as defined by California law, and is also allowing “your corporate entity’s religious beliefs” to override a doctor’s medical decision, violating a state law against the corporate practice of medicine.

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