Catholic Hospital Wins Legal Victory in Tubal Ligation Challenge

ACLU continues to push against bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for healthcare

The argument that a Catholic hospital refusing to perform tubal ligations discriminates against women doesn’t hold water. The hospital also denies men a procedure that ends up sterilizing them.

So says the judge hearing the latest case in which a Catholic health care facility was challenged on its adherence to moral norms.

The case came about when Rebecca Chamorro, a 33-year-old mother of two expecting her third child, asked Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif., to perform a tubal ligation after her delivery. The hospital turned her down, citing the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services (ERDs).

“Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution” other than as a “cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available” is the directive at issue.

The American Civil Liberty Union’s California chapter, which is representing Chamorro, holds that the hospital should follow state and federal antidiscrimination law, since it accepts state and federal funds. That is the argument the state itself made just a year ago in demanding that Catholic universities include abortion in their health care coverage.

But Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith said Chamorro’s could not be construed as a case of “women’s health” or sex-based discrimination, as the hospital also refuses male sterilization, America magazine reported.

“Religious-based hospitals have an enshrined place in American history and its communities,” Goldsmith stated, “and the religious beliefs reflected in their operation are not to be interfered with by courts at this moment in history.”

The case seems to be of importance to the ACLU, which has brought several similar cases against Catholic healthcare institutions: the Catholic Health Association of the United States says the nation’s 645 Catholic hospitals constitute the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the country, caring for one in six patients.

Chamorro wanted have her tubes tied right after delivering her baby during a C-section procedure, scheduled for Jan. 28. Lots of women do that, to avoid the need for a second invasive operation. Now that the Catholic hospital is out of the picture, she would have to go to a hospital some 70 miles from her home.

Whether she gets her wish or not remains to be seen. But the ACLU is hoping to give birth to a larger cause.

“We hope this case will lead to the precedent that organizations that accept public funds can’t discriminate based on religious doctrine,” Ruth Dawson of the California ACLU, told the Los Angeles Times before Goldsmith’s ruling.