By Kate McDonough
Pope Francis last week issued an expansive document outlining the mission behind his papacy, including a strongly worded indictment of free market economics and the government leaders and corporate executives who are the system’s greatest beneficiaries. The pope’s declarations on poverty and economic justice may have been a new turn for the church, but the rest of the 84-page document was a regurgitation of the same old doctrine.
Specifically, the church’s hard line on abortion and other issues of reproductive justice remains as rigid and as dangerous as ever. Which is why the timing of the American Civil Liberty Union’s lawsuit alleging gross medical negligence against the United States Congress of Catholic Bishops, filed just days after the pope released his “Evangelii Gaudium,” felt significant. The suit was a necessary reminder that a church doctrine that refuses to respect women’s bodily autonomy and the medical judgment of doctors — no matter how progressive its economic agenda — is still a dangerous thing. (Related: Economic justice and reproductive justice are not distinct agendas, but I digress.)
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tamesha Means, a 27-year-old mother of two who presented at the emergency room of a Catholic hospital in Michigan — the only hospital within 30 miles — after her water broke while she was 18 weeks pregnant. According to the suit, Means’ fetus had virtually no chance of survival, but the hospital did not tell her this information, nor did it tell her that the safest treatment option would be to induce labor in order to terminate the doomed pregnancy.
Instead, she says she was sent home with Tylenol. When she returned later that same night, bleeding and with an elevated temperature, she says the hospital attempted to send her home a second time. Means experienced a painful miscarriage while the hospital staff was in the process of filing her discharge papers. (Mercy Health Muskegon has declined to comment.)
“Each time I went into the hospital, the same thing happened,” Means said in a statement. “They should act like it’s their mother or sister or daughter they’re treating. I pray to God someone stops this from happening again. My life could have been taken. I was in a very dangerous situation.”