I Was Denied A Common Procedure Because My Hospital Says It’s “Evil”

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Miller.
My husband and I have always known that our family would be complete with two children, so you can imagine the excitement we shared when we learned I was pregnant with a baby brother or sister for our toddler. What we didn’t know is that we would be denied a common pregnancy-related procedure because our doctor was affiliated with a hospital that put religious doctrine over sound medical practice.

I live in rural Northern California, in the city of Redding, and the options of labor and delivery wards here are few and far between. I scheduled my delivery at the only hospital in Redding that has a labor and delivery ward, Mercy Medical Center — the hospital where my doctor has admitting privileges and where I delivered my first child. My first labor came early, and I needed to deliver by Caesarean section. Considering those circumstances, it was incredibly important that I have a plan in place for the delivery of my second child, which is scheduled for next month. Because my husband and I did not want more children, and I would be undergoing my second C-section, my doctor recommended that I get my tubes tied — a common and immediately effective procedure, which would be performed after my delivery.

I discussed the procedure with my husband, and he, too, agreed that this was the best option for us. The procedure would only prolong my time in surgery for a few minutes and would not increase my recovery time after my C-section. Given my particular circumstances, this was without a doubt the best option for me. I filled out the necessary paperwork, and my doctor submitted the request to Mercy Medical Center. However, because the hospital is affiliated with the Catholic hospital system, it originally informed my doctor that he would not be allowed to perform the procedure, citing religious directives written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I was shocked to learn that not only was my request denied, but that it was denied by a so-called committee the very same day that it was submitted.

I never thought the hospital where I delivered my first child would deny my doctor’s request to perform a common procedure.

I never would have thought that the hospital where I delivered my first child, and am about to deliver my second, would deny my doctor’s request to perform a common procedure. I tried to reach out to the hospital to see why my request was denied and how to appeal the decision. I called the hospital and was transferred from department to department until I ended up speaking with someone in the Office of Parochial Services. She took my information and told me that a doctor would call me back. I waited…and nothing. I got the names of the specific people who denied my request and left them messages. Radio silence again. I kept calling, and finally got a return call after a few weeks. This was from a secretary who told me that the doctor would not return my calls and that I could speak directly with my own doctor. She said that this issue was between me and my doctor and not with the hospital. I tried explaining that my doctor was recommending the tubal ligation, but she would not listen to me. I was baffled that the hospital was making decisions about my medical care but refused to explain the reasoning to me or reconsider my request.

Religious liberty means the right to exercise one’s beliefs, not that a public-facing business should be given a free pass to impose those beliefs on others.

I reached out to my insurance company, and it found a hospital where I could get both a C-section and my tubes tied in the same operation, but that hospital was more than 150 miles away. If I chose this option, I would have had to find a new doctor to do all my maternity care and leave my family for the delivery of my second child. It seems unrealistic to me that anyone would expect a nine-months-pregnant woman to drive between four and five hours round trip for weekly appointments. Then, on top of that, leave a toddler at home for three to five days while I recovered out of town. Add in the possibility that I could go into labor unexpectedly and have to get myself to a hospital almost three hours away when there was one 15 minutes from my home. This was clearly not a viable option. Mercy Medical, and others associated with the growing network of Catholic hospitals, did not make its decision to deny me this form of health care based on medicine, or even in the interest of my personal health, but because its directives classify getting your tubes tied as a form of contraception as “intrinsically evil.” Not only is this label far from objective medical advice, it illustrates the extent of how extreme religious doctrine is trumping sound medical practice. And though religious liberty means the right to exercise one’s beliefs, it does not mean that a public-facing business should be given a free pass to impose those beliefs onto others. Mercy Medical is a nonprofit, publicly funded hospital. Religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to discriminate or deny health care.

Their directives classify getting your tubes tied as a form of contraception as ‘intrinsically evil.’

I was lucky that it occurred to me to call the ACLU, and that it then agreed to represent me. Less than a week after the organization sent a letter telling Mercy Medical to allow me to undergo the procedure, the hospital changed its tune and agreed to make a medical exception for me to have the procedure. The decision that I made was between my family and my doctor, and it should not involve Catholic bishops. Non-medical professionals should not be allowed to deny doctors the ability to provide best medical care to their patients. Because of the rapid expansion of Catholic-affiliated hospitals in California and across the United States, I worry my situation is not unique. I have to say that this has been a roller-coaster ride I did not want to be on, but I felt I had no choice. I did not plan to be in the media and open myself and my family up to scrutiny from complete strangers. I have followed my case in the media and have been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received, but I’d be lying if I said that it was all positive. In response to a negative comment, one person came to my defense and wrote that perhaps I was “too tough to be shamed or intimidated.” This comment has really resonated with me. I do not generally think of myself as tough, but it made me think: Maybe I am tough — tougher than even I realized. A reporter at a local newspaper even mentioned that it had several women post on its Facebook page in response to my story, saying that they also had been denied care. I can only hope that women out there reading this, the ones who received the same rejection letter that I did, recognize that they, too, are tougher than they realize. Perhaps those women will think of my story and stand up for their right to proper medical care. Rachel Miller is a lawyer living in Redding, CA, with her husband and child — and their second due this September. She partnered with the ACLU to fight for her right to get her tubes tied after being turned away by her nearest hospital because of its religious policies. The hospital agreed to make an exception after Rachel and the ACLU sent a letter threatening to sue if it didn’t provide this standard procedure. Read More
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