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ACLU files federal complaint against Catholic health system that denied woman tubal ligation

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday filed a federal complaint against a Catholic health system over its refusal to provide a woman with a medically advised tubal ligation, Reuters reports (Mclaughlin, Reuters, 10/25).


Sterilization is the second-most-common birth control method in the United States. OB-GYNs often perform tubal ligations in conjunction with cesarean sections so women do not require a second surgery for the sterilization.

In the past, some Catholic hospitals provided sterilizations if they were medically indicated, such as when a woman was undergoing a C-section and another pregnancy would present a health risk. However, around the early 2000s, the Vatican sought stricter enforcement of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which ban Catholic facilities from performing sterilizations, abortions and certain other procedures. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic hospitals in the United States increased by 16 percent from 2001 to 2011.

Denial of care

Jessica Mann was diagnosed 10 years ago with a certain type of brain tumor that can cause blindness, paralysis and other problems. When she was pregnant with her third child, her doctor advised her to undergo a tubal ligation after the birth because of her condition.

In October 2014, Genesys Regional Medical Center, located in Michigan, enacted a policy against sterilization, citing the Catholic directives. However, the facility said it would make exceptions for medical reasons. Mann requested such an exception from the hospital in May 2015 but was denied in September 2015 (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/23/15). Mann ultimately delivered the infant at a different medical facility, where she was also able to get a tubal ligation (Reuters, 10/25).

In September 2015, ACLU in a letter to the hospital threatened legal action for denying Mann the procedure. Mann later put in a complaint with state regulators, stating that the hospital acted negligently when it refused to provide the tubal ligation (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/23/15). However, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) closed the complaint.

ACLU files federal complaint

ACLU on Tuesday filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights.

The complaint asks the department to investigate Genesys Health System and its parent company, Ascension Health, to determine whether its policies violate federal regulations for medical care. According to the complaint, LARA closed ACLU's initial complaint because it did not involve the conditions at the hospital (Reuters, 10/25).