[CONTENT NOTE: descriptions of obstetric complications; contempt for women’s lives, health and agency; mockery of Catholic “ethics”; profanity including the m-f-bomb; revenge fantasies I am not proud of but yeah I totally went there.]
Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke. Suddenly in tremendous pain, she rushed to Mercy Health Hospital in Muskegon, Michigan—the only hospital in her county. Ms. Means was not told that her pregnancy was doomed, that if she continued the pregnancy she was at risk of a deadly infection (like the one that killed Savita Halappanavar while she begged doctors for an abortion that would save her life), nor that the safest course of action was to terminate the pregnancy immediately. Instead, Means was discharged with medication and told to just go home and wait for the pain to end.
“The pain was unbearable,” Means said in an interview from her home in Muskegon, Mich. “I told them, ‘I need you guys to help me.’ They told me there was nothing they could do.”
She returned to Mercy Health the next morning, bleeding and in pain. Same drill: no mention of any risks to herself or her fetus, no discussion of treatment options. Go home, woman, and quit pestering us with your silly medical problems! Fer chrissakes we have a hospital to run here. Jeezus.
That same evening Means returned to Mercy Health for the third time, only now she was feverish—a sign of a significant infection. And yet they were prepared to turn her away once again. Fortunately for Means, she suddenly went into labor and miscarried at the hospital. Two-and-a-half hours after delivery, the doomed infant was pronounced dead.
“I was in terrible pain,” Means said. “I was tired. I was frustrated. I still had no answers as to why they did nothing to help me, why they didn’t go ahead and induce my labor when they knew my baby wasn’t going to make it.”
Instead, they left her in pain for days. She could have died.
This is the kind of “medical care” one can expect at Catholic hospitals, which now operate 1 in 6 hospital beds nationwide and represent an ever-increasing share of those beds as they merge with secular health systems. Catholic-associated health care providers are required to follow the “Ethical and Religious Directives” set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “to provide authoritative guidance on certain moral issues that face Catholic health care today.” These “ethical” and religious directives govern such issues as end-of-life care, which requires that even non-Catholic patients who are terminally ill and wish to end their lives must suffer with little respite until they die naturally. But it should come as no surprise to my Loyal Readers™ that more than anything else, the bishops’ directives are obsessively focused on issues surrounding vaginas: reproductive health care, sterilization procedures and obstetric complications.
Recall that this is the same United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that is presently backing and coordinating dozens of lawsuits to block the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. If this gambit is successful, stories like Means’s will only become more routine. This is especially true in light of the draconian laws and targeted budget cuts sweeping the nation that have resulted in massive numbers of family planning clinic closures.
ACLU is on Means’s case, and in an unusual way: a suit has been filed not against the hospital itself, but against…the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The suit alleges that these “ethical” and religious directives prevent Catholic-associated providers from suggesting abortion or referring patients elsewhere for a necessary termination, “even when doing so places a woman’s health or life at risk.” ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling said, “We are committed to defending Americans’ right to practice religion. We have a long history of doing that. But this isn’t about religious freedom. It’s about medical care.”
Indeed. Melling notes that this is hardly an isolated incident:
Across the country, women face the risk of mistreatment as a result of the Directives. This happens often despite the fact that doctors want to give their patients the proper care and information, if only they were allowed to. Indeed, studies show that over half of OB/GYNs working in Catholic-sponsored hospitals have run into conflicts with the Directives.
One doctor, describes a miscarrying patient who was dying before his eyes, septic, with a 106 degree fever, her eyes filling with blood. But even though she was in danger, and the fetus had no chance of survival, because of the Directives, the hospital’s policy wouldn’t let the doctor treat her by terminating the pregnancy until the fetal heartbeat ceased of its own accord.
Another doctor describes a situation where a woman in the first part of her second trimester arrived at the hospital with a hand sticking out of her cervix. But the fetus had a heartbeat, and so the Catholic-sponsored hospital forbids the doctor from ending the pregnancy. Instead, she was forced to send her patient to a facility 90 miles away. Doctors are also barred from giving their patients full information about their treatment options. Recently, a cardiologist was reprimanded for telling a patient with signs of a potentially fatal condition that if it worsened, the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association would recommend terminating the pregnancy in order to save her life.
Save a woman’s life? What the hell kind of ethical health care is that?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the ACLU. Not only do I treasure my “Sue The Bastards. -ACLU” t-shirt, I have confidence in their strategies and legal skills. What I do not have confidence in is the U.S. Supreme Court as currently constituted, where this case is almost certainly headed: there is a conservative majority, as well as a Catholic majority. If we were the gambling sort, we would bet the Palace Treasury that this lawsuit is as doomed as a woman with deadly obstetric complications in a Catholic hospital. The one upside I can see is that during discovery and trial, the world might get a glimpse of exactly the sort of “ethical” considerations that go into these directives.
And so for good measure in the meantime, we hereby order the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops subject to the following directives:
Perry Street Palace’s Official Ethical Directives.
All Catholic hospitals with names that contain the word “Mercy” shall be required to substitute “No Mercy.” (How about some truth in advertising, you fucking @$$holes.)
Should any member of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops find themselves feverish and/or in excruciating pain, they shall be prohibited from accessing professional medical care and instructed to “go home,” unless and until they go into labor.
Live by the sword? Die by the sword, motherfuckers.
–Iris Vander Pluym
Perry Street Palace.