Intrauterine devices (or IUDs) are among the most popular and most effective types of birth control. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 6% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 rely on an IUD for contraception. While complications, such as expulsion or dislodging of the device, are rare, they do happen for between 3% and 5% of women with an IUD, according to the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians. This can cause pain and bleeding, and requires prompt removal of the device — something your doctor should have no problem helping you with, you would assume.
But a new (and infuriating) report from Rewire suggests that's not always the case: After slipping and falling in her Chicago-area apartment, Melanie Jones went to her doctor, bleeding and in pain. The doctor confirmed that Jones' IUD had become dislodged during her fall and would need to be removed. But citing Catholic rules followed by the Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and the providers within its system, the doctor said she couldn't help Jones. “I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.” But even after consulting with colleagues, the doctor came back to tell Jones that her "hands were tied," Jones claims in a complaint filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. And not only could she herself not help Jones, but because all the health providers in Jones' health insurance network followed similar rules, no one else could, either, she was reportedly told. Unfortunately, Jones might not be alone. According to a May 2016 report from the ACLU and MergerWatch, a public health watchdog, 14.5% of hospitals (approximately 548) in the U.S. have Catholic affiliations. Mercy, among them, follows guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to certain services, such as abortion and contraception.
Mercy has since claimed that its policies do not forbid the removal of an IUD. In a statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.” “That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.
As Rewire notes, some Catholic providers can get around these rules when they prescribe hormonal contraception such as birth control pills by purporting to do so for heavy periods or acne, but that kind of pretext doesn't exist in the case of copper IUDs like the one Jones had. Jones said she was forced to leave the doctor's office still in pain and still bleeding — since her insurance would only cover treatment within her network, urgent care wasn't an option, nor could she afford the trip to the emergency room. After contacting attorneys, she was advised to call her insurance company and demand that it expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, five days after the initial appointment, and two weeks after she first fell, she was finally able to see a doctor who would remove her IUD. Not only was she in physical pain; Jones also felt shamed by the doctors who turned her away. “It felt heartbreaking,” she told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.” The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in her case, one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act.