Anybody who’s been paying attention to the war on women that’s been raging for a couple of years now, knows that fetal personhood is one of the anti-choice movement’s favorite lines of attack. They’ve tried to introduce personhood laws in states across the country, claiming that every life is precious and we must protect that single-celled zygote because, you know, it’s a human life and human life is god’s gift.
In fact, one of the groups at the forefront of the anti-choice movement is the Catholic Church. You might remember that back in 2011, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) lobbied hard for the “Protect Life Act,” which came to be more popularly known as the “Let Women Die Act,” because of the provision that would allow religious-run hospitals to deny abortion care to a woman, even if by doing so it would result in her death. They would have also been exempt from having to transport a woman to another hospital.
In other words, if they left a woman to die on a sidewalk because of a pregnancy gone wrong, they would have been well within their rights, because they’re all about life and protecting the unborn, ‘cause they have rights, ya’ know!
Well, maybe not so much.
Catholic Health Initiatives in Colorado, a Catholic hospital chain, is currently being sued for wrongful death by Jeremy Stodghill, who sued the organization after losing his wife, Lori, and the twin babies who died in her womb after the physician on call refused to answer a page and the attending doctors decided against a cesarean section that could possibly have saved the twins. She was seven months pregnant at the time and died from cardiac arrest.
Catholic Health is a multi-billion dollar non-profit based in Inverness, Colorado that supposedly follows the rules as laid out by the USCCB:
The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”
However, the attorneys defending Catholic Health, the second largest faith-based health system in the country, with 78 hospitals in 17 states, made an astounding argument to get them off the hook for Lori’s death and the deaths of the twins:
But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.
As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”
Well, well, well…I guess the fetus as person only applies when you’re not being sued.
The irony of this case, however, is that CHI won with that defense. The case was thrown out of the Fremont County District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals, and Stodghill’s attorneys are waiting to hear if the Colorado Supreme Court will even address the case.
Nevertheless, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church is laid bare for all to see, and in many ways it completely discredits their anti-choice bona fides. They claim the rights of the unborn as a principle, but it would seem that principle is entirely negotiable when there’s a shit load of money at stake.