Recently, Catholic hospitals have come under fire when former female patients came forward claiming that they were denied important reproductive treatments and procedures. The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) came forward on their behalf and sued the Catholic health system for refusing to provide the necessary treatments, such as abortions.
Yet every suit brought forward by the ACLU was dismissed by the courts. At the moment, no law can force or coerce a medical officer to perform a procedure that goes against their faith and conscience. In this case, the procedures are abortions and sterilization.
Why does the law protect medical personnel like this? Is there anything we can do to make sure female patients get their necessary medical treatment?
Constitution 101: Negative Rights and Positive Rights
To best understand the situation, it will help to have a brief overview of a special aspect of the Constitution. It is important to know that the Constitution is made up of positive rights and negative rights.
A positive right is when the government owes its citizens a right or an action, such as a right to an attorney in a criminal trial. In contrast, a negative right is when the government owes its citizens the duty of not acting, such as not suppressing speech or religion. In this case, doctors have the negative right of freedom from the government forcing them to perform abortions against their conscience and/or religion.
Why are the Courts Dismissing the ACLU’s Claims?
In 2015, the 6th circuit court of appeals dismissed the ACLU’s claims against a hospital. The claim was that the “Religious and Ethical Directive” made a physician deny “appropriate medical care” to a woman suffering from a natural miscarriage. The court dismissed the case for several reasons, but mainly because the court did not think they had jurisdiction over the issue since it concerns “ecclesiastical matters.”
The courts refuse to step in because they believe that the Catholic hospital system should have complete control over their services and operations. But, what if Catholic hospitals refuse to perform heart surgery or dialysis, a necessary treatment for people with diabetes? What if Catholic hospitals refuse to give what is considered to be a necessary treatment?
Medical Abortions are Not Considered to be Necessary Treatment
At the moment, the law thinks a medical abortion is not a necessary treatment for women. Even though medical organizations and groups recommend that a medical abortion should be performed once the patient begins to show signs of infection or excessive blood loss.
But anti-abortion groups still maintain that advances in science have made abortions unnecessary to save a woman’s life. A large part of our nation thinks abortion is not a medical procedure, but a moral evil that violates a sincerely held religious belief. Since our nation cannot decide if abortion can ever be necessary, it is not surprising that our legal system refuses to force physicians to perform it against their conscience.
There is a Lot to Do Before We Try to Make Catholic Hospitals Perform Necessary Abortions.
Right now, the ACLU’s efforts might be in vain. The legal system refuses to hear or decide on any issues they deem to be about religion, and abortion seems to remain a question of morality and not medicine. Until there is a change, it is unlikely that any of the ACLU’s lawsuits and claims on behalf of patients will succeed.
Given the political climate, it seems unlikely our nation will stop using abortion as a political platform. Until then, the ACLU’s efforts will keep bringing Catholic hospitals’ Ethical and Religious Directive into the spotlight and remind us that we have a long way to go.