News Abortion

Doctor Who Alleged His Hospital Illegally Bans Abortion Discussion: ‘Everyone Has Been Very Supportive’

Jason Salzman

A Colorado cardiologist says "everyone is acting in a very adult and mature manner" since the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a complaint in November alleging that a rural Catholic hospital illegally prohibits doctors from discussing abortion with their patients.

A Colorado state agency has yet to complete its investigation into a complaint, filed in November by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado, that a rural Catholic hospital is illegally telling doctors not to discuss abortion with their patients.

The doctor at the center of the controversy, cardiologist Michael Demos, is cited in an ACLU letter of complaint alleging that a Mercy Hospital administrator told Demos that he should not recommend abortion—or even discuss it—with his patients, even if the standard treatment for an illness is abortion.

Demos says that since the complaint was filed, “everyone has been very, very supportive, from physicians to patients.”

“One person, who I didn’t even know, came up to me and gave a big hug and said, ‘Thank you from the women of La Plata County,'” he told Rewire. “It’s been gratifying. Very heartwarming.”

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Anti-choice activists in Colorado are not supportive of Demos, however. They back Mercy Hospital’s alleged policy of prohibiting the discussion and recommendation of abortion.

“It’s not surprising that the Anti-Christ Legions of the Underworld would use the police-state force of government to compel an institution to aid and abet the dismemberment of unborn children,” Bob Enyart, a spokesperson for Colorado Right to Life, told Rewire.

Long-time Colorado anti-choice activist Leslie Hanks added in an email, “The ACLU has moved from being pro-choice to being no-choice.”

In two letters to one of Demos’ patients last year, Dr. John Boyd, Mercy’s chief medical officer, wrote that the hospital would “provide education to all our employed providers, reminding them that they should not recommend abortion—even to patients who may have serious illnesses,” and that the hospital follows Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives, and therefore precludes doctors from “providing or recommending abortion,” according to the ACLU letter of complaint.

In a meeting with Demos, also last year, “Boyd issued a verbal admonishment to Dr. Demos, instructing Dr. Demos that he is not permitted to recommend an abortion, nor is he permitted to even discuss the possibility of terminating a pregnancy with a Mercy Regional patient, regardless of the circumstances,” according to the ACLU complaint.

Demos, who’s been at Mercy since 2005, says he’s heard nothing from the hospital administration, which issued a statement in November saying the ACLU complaint was inaccurate.

Asked if he felt the medical community is on his side, Demos said, “This shouldn’t be an adversarial thing. It’s very amicable. Everyone is acting in a very adult and mature manner. We wanted to do the best for our patients. That’s our reason to be here. It might be trite to say, but it’s the truth. Everybody wants to do the right thing.”

A spokesperson for the ACLU of Colorado said Wednesday that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is still investigating the ACLU complaint. The ACLU had originally requested that the investigation be completed by November 27.

News Religion

Hospital Illegally Refused Sterilization Procedure, Pro-Choice Group Charges

Jason Salzman

The Center for Reproductive Rights, in a March 4 letter sent to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center on behalf of the patient, Jennifer Versailles, stated that the Catholic hospital's denial of the tubal ligation procedure violates state and federal laws mandating pregnancy related care.

A Catholic hospital in Colorado’s central mountains has refused the request of a staff doctor to perform a tubal ligation, a sterilization procedure, after a cesarean section that took place on Tuesday.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), in a March 4 letter sent to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center on behalf of the patient, Jennifer Versailles, stated that the Catholic hospital’s denial of the tubal ligation procedure violates state and federal laws mandating pregnancy related care.

It also constitutes sex discrimination, the letter charged.

James Corbett, Centura Health’s senior vice president for community health and values integration, did not address Versailles’ case when asked for comment, but he alluded to the hospital’s faith-based directives.

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“We cannot discuss specifics about a patient due to federal patient privacy laws,” Corbett wrote in a statement to Rewire. “St. Anthony Summit Medical Center is among the Centura Health hospitals which adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs).”

It is CRR’s “understanding” that St. Anthony’s refusal to perform the procedure is based on the ERD directives, which are promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to the letter from CRR, a national reproductive freedom organization.

The ERD directives state that sterility procedures on men or women are “not permitted in a Catholic health care institution,” unless treatment of an illness would dictate otherwise and alternative remedies are not available.

“We uphold our faith-based mission and strongly respect the patient-physician relationship,” Corbett wrote in his statement.

Autumn Katz, CRR senior staff attorney, told Rewire that this case proves this wrong.

“They say that they value a doctor-patient relationship, but policy suggests otherwise,” Katz said. “This is absolutely interference in a very disturbing way in the doctor-patient relationship, because this is the care that Jennifer’s doctor and she have decided is best for her health. The hospital for other reasons is denying her ability to access that care.”

Corbett wrote that the hospital facilitates the doctor-patient relationship by encouraging alternatives.

“In instances where a patient cannot obtain a requested elective procedure at a Centura Health hospital under Catholic sponsorship, we encourage the patient and physician to work together for a solution,” Corbett wrote.

Asked to explain why Versailles didn’t have the tubal-ligation procedure at a different hospital, Katz said, “My understanding is [Versailles] felt that the safest course for her was to do it at this hospital. That’s the hospital where her doctor practices and where she’s delivered her prior two children. She was not willing at the last minute to find a new doctor and travel, under what could be precarious conditions, to a different hospital where she could have had the tubal procedure.”

“Ms. Versailles, in consultation with her doctor, Dr. Andrew Catron, has decided that immediate postpartum tubal ligation is in her best medical interest, given her age and prior medical history,” the CRR letter states. “Ms. Versailles has two young children—ages two and five, both delivered by C-section—and she and her husband do not wish to have more children.”

The letter points to an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ recommendation that postpartum tubal ligation should be considered an “urgent surgical procedure” because it reduces medical risks and obviates the need for an additional surgery with anesthesia.

St. Anthony Medical Center, located in Frisco, Colorado, is a member of the Centura Health hospital chain, formed by a 1996 merger of Adventist Health System and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) hospitals.

It describes itself on its website as a “faith-based, nonprofit health care network designed to manage and strengthen their hospitals and services.”

“We extend the healing ministry of Christ by caring for those who are ill and by nurturing the health of the people in our communities,” the website states.

The CHI network has been criticized for trying to dictate medical treatment in accordance with the religious guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

After Catron requested permission to perform the tubal ligation in December, according to CRR’s letter, the Rev. Godwin Nnamezie of St. Anthony’s Ethics Committee wrote Catron an email stating, “Honestly, you know that we cannot do direct sterilization at this Facility. Procedures that induce sterility are only allowed when it is to cure or alleviate any serious illness of the patient.”

Katz said her organization hasn’t decided how it will respond.

“We will evaluate all options,” Katz said. “We will talk to Jennifer in the next few weeks and see how she is feeling. I don’t expect this to be an isolated incident. And it’s a danger to many women. It has repercussions beyond this procedure, for a hospital to dictate medical care from religious directives rather than what’s the best medicine for patients.”

News Law and Policy

Court Rules Catholic Hospital Can Refuse Reproductive Health Care

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A California judge ruled a Catholic hospital chain could deny tubal ligation to patients on the grounds of Catholic directives without violating anti-discrimination laws.

A California state court judge has tentatively rejected a lawsuit brought by a California woman against a Catholic hospital that has refused her request for a tubal ligation.

Rebecca Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health sued Dignity Health and Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California in December 2015. Chamorro, who is eight months pregnant and scheduled to give birth at the end of January, wanted a tubal ligation at that time, according to the complaint. But Dignity Health refused Chamorro’s request and told Chamorro’s doctor that he could not perform the procedure, citing religious directives written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Those directives state that direct sterilization is “intrinsically evil.”

That refusal, according to the complaint, amounts to sex discrimination because the prohibition against sterilization disproportionately impacts women.

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Dignity Health is the fifth largest health system in the nation and the largest hospital provider in California. Each year it receives millions in government grants, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, and government programs, according to recent tax filings.

Chamorro had asked the court for an order declaring that the hospital chain’s refusal violated California civil rights laws, business and professions laws, and the Health and Safety Code, as well as an injunction requiring the hospital allow the procedure.

Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith denied that request in a tentative ruling last week. Chamorro’s discrimination claim is likely to fail because Dignity Health’s sterilization policy “applies equally to men and women,” Goldsmith wrote.

Goldsmith continued: “[p]laintiff can obtain the desired procedure at other hospitals that do not follow defendant’s directive.”

According to Chamorro’s attorneys, their client is still scheduled for a January 28 cesarean section at Mercy Medical, where her doctor will not be allowed to perform the tubal ligation procedure. Despite last week’s order tentatively rejecting Chamorro’s claims, Elizabeth Gill with the ACLU of Northern California said in a statement the rest of their case would move forward.

“We will continue to litigate the case on behalf of Physicians for Reproductive Health,” Gill said. “We believe that the courts will ultimately ensure that government-funded hospitals serving the general public and people of all faiths cannot use religion to discriminate, interfere in the doctor-patient relationship, or deny women basic healthcare.”