The problem many women have with access to accurate, professional reproductive health care is not because of the doctors, other hospital staff, or even annoying protesters, but rather the administrators and ideologues that employ the medical professionals. It is therefore refreshing to see some pushback on that front.
The ACLU is suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over its hospital directives that allegedly led a Michigan hospital to give inaccurate medical information to a woman in order to avoid discussing abortion with her. The woman, according to the ACLU, was only in the 18th week of pregnancy when her water broke. The hospital kept sending her home, even though she was in terrible pain, the pregnancy had almost no chance of surviving, and the delay in treating her put her at ever-greater risk. Note that the lawsuit is not against the hospital or the doctors who allegedly denied her adequate care, but rather the religious organization that pulls the hospital’s strings.
You can have whatever religious beliefs you want, but you cannot force those beliefs onto others, especially when their life is at risk. Seriously, what is so hard to understand about that???
Several organizations have filed a complaint against the government of El Salvador with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, claiming that the government’s refusal to allow a woman to undergo a life-saving abortion violated her human rights. The woman, identified as Beatriz, was 26 weeks pregnant with a “nonviable, anencephalic fetus.” Her prior health problems made it unlikely that she could survive the pregnancy, according to her doctors, but the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied her request for an emergency abortion in May 2013.
In June, the court reportedly allowed her doctors to perform an “emergency cesarian” that was pretty much a glorified hysterectomy. It saved her life, but the 22 year-old woman obviously will not be having any more children. All of this was apparently in the cause of maintaining the country’s absolute ban on abortion because of reasons.
Feminist organizations assert that Beatriz’s story reflects the consequences of the absolute criminalization of abortion and the institutional violence that is exercised against Salvadoran girls, adolescents, and adult women. According to data gathered by the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, between 2000 and 2011, a total of 129 women in El Salvador have been charged with abortion or aggravated homicide, with sentences ranging between two and 40 years in prison. Currently there are at least 30 women serving prison such sentences, the majority having suffered the loss of their pregnancies for various obstetric complications.
I don’t get it.
UPDATE (12/10/2013): Astute reader Kathleen directed my attention to a 1987 court case, In re A.C., 573 A.2d 1235 (D.C. Cir. 1990), in which the USCCB was one of only two organizations (along with Americans United for Life) to defend a hospital’s decision to perform a C-section on a terminally-ill cancer patient without her consent. The fetus survived about two hours after the procedure, and the mother survived a few more days. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the lower court ruling that allowed the procedure, finding that the woman had the right to make decisions regarding her own and the fetus’ health care. A report from the ACLU written ten years after oral arguments in the case recounted:
When an attorney for the hospital argued that it was appropriate to sacrifice a dying woman for her fetus, one judge replied incredulously, “Are you urging this court to find that you can handcuff a woman to a bed and force her to give birth?” Instead, the court resoundingly concluded that in virtually all circumstances a woman — not doctors or a judge — should make medical decisions on behalf of herself and her fetus. The opinion emphasized an argument made in the American Public Health Association’s friend-of-the court brief, that court-ordered intervention “drives women at high risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth out of the health care system to avoid coerced treatment.”
Photo credit: By dbking (Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.