Judge to Consider Emergency Appeal for Redding Woman's Tubal Ligation

Mercy Medical Center Redding, a part of San Francisco-based Dignity Health. (Google Street View)

Update: Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016:

A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Tuesday will consider an emergency order to permit a Redding woman's contraceptive procedure to go forward.  Mercy Medical Center in Redding has refused to allow the procedure on religious grounds.

Rebecca Chamorro is pregnant with her third child and decided on a tubal ligation to avoid another pregnancy. But Mercy Medical -- part of Dignity Health -- does not permit sterilization procedures for women or men, under rules from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which are generally followed by Catholic hospitals. Chamorro filed the emergency request last week.

Chamorro is joined in her suit by Physicians for Reproductive Health, an advocacy group. "We shouldn't allow religion or any hospital to decide what is best for a patient and her family," said Dr. Pratima Gupta, a fellow with the organization. "It really should be in consultation with her doctor."

Tubal ligations are usually done after a woman delivers. Chamorro has a scheduled cesarean section later this month. The next closest hospital that permits tubal ligation is 70 miles from her, in Chico.

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Original post:

A woman whose request for a tubal ligation has been denied by Mercy Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Redding, has joined with a physicians group to sue the hospital, saying its denial is discriminatory and in violation of California law.

The woman, Rebecca Chamorro, is pregnant with her third child and is scheduled to have a cesarean section in late January. According to court papers, Chamorro and her husband determined they did not want to have more children and scheduled the tubal ligation to be done when she delivers her child. Medically, this is the ideal time to perform the procedure, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

But in September Mercy Medical informed her obstetrician, Dr. Samuel Van Kirk, that it was denying his request to perform the procedure there, citing Catholic directives.  Earlier this month the ACLU and Physicians for Reproductive Health, a national advocacy group, sent a letter to Dignity Health, which owns Mercy Medical, seeking a reversal of the decision. The hospital has not authorized the procedure.

Now Physicians for Reproductive Health has joined with Chamorro in filing a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. They are represented by the ACLU and a San Francisco law firm.

“The refusal of hospitals to allow doctors to perform basic health procedures based solely on religious doctrine presents a real threat to a woman’s ability to access health care,” Elizabeth Gill, senior attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. “Patients seeking medical care from public institutions should not have to worry that religious doctrine rather than medical judgment will dictate what care they receive.”

Mercy Medical is owned by Dignity Health, and court documents spell out that Dignity receives significant income from public money, including more than $3 billion in payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

Court papers say that the next closest hospital where Chamorro could have a tubal ligation is 70 miles away, in Chico.

A spokeswoman for Dignity Health said it is the company's policy not to comment on pending litigation, but in a statement said that "the care and safety of our patients is always our top priority."

The statement notes that it is not the practice of the hospital to provide "sterilization services ... in accordance with Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services ... " The directives were written by the  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and specifically prohibit sterilization, which labels sterilization “intrinsically evil”:

“Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.”…

“While there are many acts of varying moral gravity that can be identified as intrinsically evil, in the context of contemporary health care the most pressing concerns are currently abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization.”

Dignity Health's system includes 39 hospitals. Most of them are in California and most are Catholic hospitals.

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In addition to the lawsuit, the ACLU is also filing an emergency motion to force Dignity to permit the sterilization procedure when Chamorro delivers her baby later in January.

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