Published On: Tue, Nov 29th, 2016

ADF fights ACLU for Michigan Catholics, Genesys Health’s right to avoid performing sterilization procedures

Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that asks the agency to reject an administrative complaint that the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed on behalf of a woman who insisted that a Catholic health care system sterilize her.

ADF explains in the letter that federal law protects Ascension Health, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system and the world’s largest Catholic health system, from being forced to perform sterilization procedures in contradiction to its religious convictions. As the letter explains, not only does the federal Church Amendment offer such protections, but the Affordable Care Act on which the ACLU relies also protects Ascension by stating explicitly that nothing in the ACA “shall be construed to have any effect on Federal laws regarding…conscience protection.”

“No one should be forced to perform or participate in a procedure when doing so would violate their conscience. This is especially true of medical workers and health care systems who are in the profession largely because of—and as an extension of—their faith,” said ADF Legal Counsel Ken Connelly. “Furthermore, no law requires religious hospitals and medical personnel to sterilize women, and, in fact, federal law specifically prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion.”

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The ACLU Foundation and the ACLU of Michigan filed the complaint after Genesys Regional Medical Center declined to sterilize a woman who demanded the procedure. Genesys Health is a subsidiary of Ascension Health, which adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Consistent with Catholic teaching, those directives do not permit sterilization, a procedure that is readily available elsewhere.

The ADF letter to HHS explains that “it is simply not the case that all legally permitted care must be delivered without question—indeed, a right to request or undergo a particular medical procedure does not entail a concomitant right to demand that treatment from a particular healthcare institution or medical practitioner. It is not an act of discrimination to decline, for conscience reasons, to perform a medical procedure—indeed, if that were the case conscience protections would not exist.”

“Catholic institutions like Ascension Health and Genesys Health are motivated by the ‘ministry of healing and compassion’ that is part and parcel of Catholic teaching,” the ADF letter continues, “which helps to explain the Catholic preference for serving ‘those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination.’ If this Office were to destroy the roots of this compassion, it is not difficult to predict that its fruits will soon disappear as well…. Under no reasonable interpretation of the ACA can such fealty be considered tantamount to discrimination. The ACLU’s Administrative Complaint should therefore be summarily dismissed.”

In April, a federal court threw out an ACLU lawsuit that sought to force a different Catholic hospital system and its staff to commit abortions regardless of their religious and pro-life objections. ADF attorneys represented the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which the court allowed to intervene in the case in defense of Trinity Health Corporation.

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