Appeals court rejects Michigan woman's lawsuit over Catholic hospital care

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected a woman’s appeal in a lawsuit that alleged a Roman Catholic hospital in Michigan denied her adequate treatment during a painful miscarriage because of a policy banning even the discussion of abortion as an option.

Tamesha Means said she went to a Mercy Health Partners facility in Muskegon, Michigan, the only hospital within 30 minutes of her home, when her water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy, according to the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2013.

Despite her being in excruciating pain and with virtually no chance her pregnancy could survive, Mercy Health Partners told Means there was nothing they could do and did not tell her that terminating her pregnancy was an option and the safest course for her condition, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit accused the conference of creating healthcare directives “that cause pregnant women who are suffering from a miscarriage to be denied appropriate medical care, including information about their condition and treatment options.”

Three former chairs of Catholic Health Ministries, which is a sponsor of the hospital, were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell in Grand Rapids, Michigan, dismissed the case in June 2015, ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction over the conference and that reviewing Means’ negligence claim would “impermissibly intrude upon ecclesiastical matters.” Means appealed the ruling.

On Thursday, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld the district court’s ruling, saying the court did not have jurisdiction over the defendants and that Means could not prove negligence.

“Means alleges - and we do not doubt - that she suffered physical and mental pain, emotional injuries, a riskier delivery, shock and emotional trauma from making funeral arrangements for her dead child. ... But these allegations are not sufficient to state an injury under Michigan negligence law,” the 13-page order read. “Pain alone is not ‘physical injury.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said it was disappointed by the ruling.

“Her suffering and trauma was a direct result of hospital policies drafted by nonmedical professionals who let their religious doctrine trump patient care,” ACLU staff attorney Brigitte Amiri said in a statement.

Nearly 15 percent of the 900,000 beds in the United States are in a Roman Catholic hospital, according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States. In those hospitals, medical professionals must comply with the bishops’ directives, which prohibit suggesting or performing abortions.