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Catholic Hospital Can Deny Sterilization Requests Based On Religious Beliefs, Judge Rules

A San Francisco judge said he would not order a Catholic hospital to tie a woman's tubes after she requested the reproductive health procedure, which was also recommended by her doctor.

Posted on January 14, 2016, at 9:43 p.m. ET

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A judge in San Francisco said he would not order a Catholic hospital to violate its religious directives after staff refused to tie a woman's tubes.

Rebecca Chamorro, who is expecting her third child, requested the procedure be performed immediately after a caesarean section scheduled for late January. The procedure was recommended by her doctor, and the timing has been called "ideal" by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

But Mercy Medical Center Redding — the only hospital offering labor and delivery services near her home — barred her doctor from performing the procedure based on its policy against sterilization. The policy, which applies to both men and women, is based on a set of directives from U.S. Catholic bishops.

Chamorro, whose discrimination lawsuit was taken by the American Civil Liberties Union, sought a court order for tubal litigation in time for her delivery. On Thursday, Judge Ernest Goldsmith denied her request for a preliminary injunction.

"Religious-based hospitals have an enshrined place in American history and its communities, and the religious beliefs reflected in their operation are not to be interfered with by courts at this moment in history," Goldsmith said, the Associated Press reported.

In his order, Goldsmith noted that he did not see discrimination, since the policy against sterilization applied equally to men and women. He suggested Chamorro go to another hospital for the contraceptive procedure.

With the baby coming any day, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California senior staff attorney Elizabeth Gill said it is now unlikely that Chamorro will receive the basic procedure.

"She really doesn't have any other choice," Gill said.

Dignity Health / Via dignityhealth.org

In court documents, representatives for the hospital's parent company, Dignity Health, said going against the bishops' directives would not only violate principle, but could invalidate its status as a Catholic hospital. The hospital would no longer be able to hold mass, and could lose property or funds contingent upon it being a Catholic hospital.

"Whether postpartum sterilization is the 'standard of care' is irrelevant because Congress, the California Legislature, and the courts have all uniformly recognized that religious hospitals and physicians may not be forced to provide procedures contrary to their religious principals," Dignity Health said.

The lawsuit will continue, however, and Gill said a final outcome will affect not just Chamorro.

Catholic hospital chains are expanding around the country, she said, and religious beliefs can be used to deny women access to healthcare. Ultimately, doctors should be determining what is best for their patients, she added.

For pregnant women, traveling to another hospital — which in Charmorro's case is 70 miles away — is not a reasonable option, Gill added.

"That's a real conflict between the Catholic religious directive and the best interests of patients," she said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.