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Michigan woman sues U.S. Catholic bishops over miscarriage treatment

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A Michigan woman has sued the U.S. Catholic bishops, arguing that a Catholic hospital in Michigan denied her adequate treatment during a painful miscarriage because of a policy banning even the discussion of abortion as an option.

Tamesha Means said she went to a Catholic hospital in Muskegon, Michigan, the only hospital within 30 minutes of her home, when her water broke in December 2010 after only 18 weeks of pregnancy, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Detroit federal court.

Despite her being in excruciating pain and with virtually no chance her pregnancy could survive, Mercy Health Partners told Means there was nothing it could do and did not tell Means that terminating her pregnancy was an option and the safest course for her condition, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit accuses the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops of creating health care directives "that cause pregnant women who are suffering from a miscarriage to be denied appropriate medical care, including information about their condition and treatment options."

About 15 percent of the 800,000 beds in the U.S. are in a Catholic hospital, according to the Catholic Health Association. In those hospitals, medical professionals must comply with the bishops' directives, which prohibit suggesting or performing abortions.

In complying with the directives, medical professionals at the hospital failed to follow the standard of medical care, which required them to provide Means with treatment, inform her of her options and the risks associated with her condition, the lawsuit said.

Don Clemmer, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the organization representing the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, said the organization would not comment on the lawsuit at this time.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Means in the lawsuit.

"They never offered me any options," Means said in a statement released by the ACLU. "They didn't tell me what was happening to my body. Whatever was going on with me, they discussed it amongst themselves. I was just left to wonder, what's going to happen to me?"

Means returned to the hospital a third time with an infection. The ACLU said she began to deliver as the hospital prepared again to send her home and she eventually miscarried.

In late 2010, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix stripped the Catholic designation from St. Joseph's Hospital there, after doctors performed an emergency first-trimester abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman who had perilously high blood pressure.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by David Bailey and Andrew Hay)

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