It can and does happen here

I’ve said this before, but it needs saying often. People don’t realize that it’s not just Ireland. It can happen here too, and it does. The National Women’s Law Center did a report on it two years ago.

A serious but little known problem is putting women’s health and lives at risk: because of their religious beliefs, certain health care providers do not give appropriate treatment to women experiencing serious pregnancy complications. A recent study by Ibis Reproductive Health entitled “Assessing hospital polices & practices regarding ectopic pregnancy & miscarriage management”  [1]  adds to the growing evidence that the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services have been applied to deny women experiencing both ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages the treatment and information to which they are legally entitled.

Like Savita, you see. Not just Ireland, you see.

Catholic-affiliated hospitals are governed by the Directives, which provide guidance. Most individuals and even many health providers presume that the Directives’ prohibition on the provision of a range of abortion services applies only to non-emergency pregnancy terminations of otherwise viable pregnancies. But the Study is consistent with anecdotal accounts that provide strong evidence that some hospitals and health care providers have interpreted the Directives to prohibit prompt, medically-indicated treatment of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, placing women’s lives and health at additional and unnecessary risk, and violating the laws intended to protect patients from such serious lapses in care.

And oh look – how very familiar.

In some of the miscarriage cases described in the Ibis Study, the standard of care requires immediate treatment. Yet doctors practicing at Catholic-affiliated hospitals were forced to delay treatment while performing medically unnecessary tests. Even though these miscarriages were inevitable and no medical treatment was available to save the fetus, some patients were transferred because doctors could still detect a fetal heartbeat or required to wait until there was no longer a fetal heartbeat to provide the needed medical care.

You see? That’s Savita. It’s that simple. It happens here, too.




  1. hoary puccoon says

    I carried a fetus dead for more than two months because my “right to life” doctors didn’t want to do an abortion until they “knew” something was wrong, no matter obvious it was I wasn’t developing or how much I argued that I could sense something had gone terribly wrong. The symptom that finally convinced them was that the deteriorating fetus had pumped so many anti-coagulants in my blood it was no longer clotting. I nearly died on the operating table. I would have left a widower and a two year daughter.

    I haven’t wanted to write anything about this in a thread about Sativa, because what I went through was nothing compared to her and her family’s tragedy. I not only survived, I was able to have another child. And it all happened decades ago. Both my daughters are mothers themselves, now.

    But if people are wondering, could stuff like this happen in America, yes. It can.

  2. Rob says

    Crap. How do Doctors get away with that kind of shit? What happened to “Do no harm”? That is an appalling thing to have happened hoary puccoon. I wouldn’t minimise that at all.

  3. otrame says

    Yeah, it for sure happens here and has for a long time. In 1969 I didn’t die because a general surgeon in a little Podunk town in central Wisconsin managed to get my ruptured Fallopian tube out of my body even though I had very nearly bled out. I coded twice. I was young and healthy. Otherwise I would be long dead and the granddaughter currently aat my feet playing Roboox on her laptop would never have existed.

    Three days before I arrived at that tiny little ER at 2 am with a blood pressure of 60/40 I was discharged from a Catholic hospital with a diagnosis for my abdominal pain of “gastroenteritis” based on no tests of any kind and no history taken about my sexual history.

    It wasn’t until a few years later, when I read in my ex’s OB/GYN textbook that failure to rule out an ectopic pregnancy in ANY sexually active woman presenting with abdominal pain is mal-practice. Period.

    So please keep that in mind. Find out which of your local hospitals are Catholic and don’t trust them with any woman, especially any woman you love.

  4. says

    This is four people so far on this one blog! I have a healthy number of readers but nothing like PZ or Ed – yet four people have reported these experiences over the past couple of days. It’s fucking terrifying.

  5. hypatiasdaughter says

    #1 hoary puccoon
    I am so sorry you had to go through that.
    My less terrible story is that 25 years ago, I began gushing blood at about 8-10 weeks. Trip to ER and admission to the hospital where I was put on an IV, food withheld and had blood tests every few hours. After 36 hours (bleeding heavily all the while), I asked why all the blood tests? To see if my hormone levels had dropped to a none-pregnant level so they could do a D&C without it being an abortion. (This was in Canada when an abortion required approval by a panel of three doctors.) Finally I passed a calcified fetus and had the D&C.
    I have to ask why that idiot with an M.D. couldn’t have done the blood tests or an ultrasound (they’ve been around for over 30 years, though not used routinely in pregnancy) on you? I suspect his religious “scruples” made him want to avoid an abortion, even on a dead fetus. So he delayed, you suffered, and risked septicemia.
    What I cannot believe is the denial of treatment for ectopic pregnancies. Miscarriages are iffy – every situation is unique and some doctors may want to play the odds, even though they are gambling with a woman’s health and life. But ectopic pregnancies!? There is no gamble. The odds are all against the woman and they still want to play the game. Bastards.

  6. Claire Ramsey says

    This is horrifying. Another in a long list of assaults on reproductive health/women’s health. As far as I can tell, in the Seattle metropolitan area there are two (2) hospital systems that are not owned and managed by or have an operating agreement with Catholic “medicine.” One is a public university system and the other is the county hospital. I need to find a new doctor(s) because I just moved here. And I intend to ask where they have hospital privileges. I want nothing to do with any hospital where religious beliefs have even the tiniest bit of influence on medical care.

  7. hypatiasdaughter says

    #5 Ophelia Benson
    Yes, amazing, isn’t it?
    Think of all those health problems, big and small, that people can have. Doctors are ready to rush in with drugs and surgery if any of those problems go critical. No hesitation.
    But, if you are a religious doctor, somehow pregnancy is this magic fairyland where nothing bad is supposed to happen. Where you can hold off and gamble with your patients life. After all, it’s only a tiny, tiny minority of women who have problems – not enough to worry about. Certainly not enough to pass laws or have policies to ensure they get the intervention they need.
    Women who have a crisis in their pregnancy get 3rd World medical care at the hands of these doctors.

  8. hoary puccoon says

    hypatiasdaughter @6–

    It was more than 30 years ago, and I don’t know what tests were available. It happened in South Carolina. My doctors kept insisting I’d mistaken when I got pregnant or…. Whatever. I was worried, but I didn’t know enough to understand how much danger I was in. This group of obstetricians–all men– were considered the best in town. They were going on news shows talking about how they wouldn’t give women IUDs because IUDs prevented the implantation of a fertilized egg and that was tantamount to murder. They were the local public face of right-to-life. Of course, it would look bad if people found out they’d done an abortion. I don’t know if that entered their thinking, or if they just screwed up. I only know that it was almost three months from the time I sensed something had gone wrong– and told them so– until they finally ordered a blood test. I knew it was bad because I couldn’t get the needle prick to stop bleeding. They performed the abortion that night, and managed to get the bleeding stopped without doing a hysterectomy, which is apparently a common complication in cases like that. That’s about all I remember. I do remember how nervous the nurses were when they wheeled me into the operating room, and it seemed strange, because the doctors hadn’t explained just how badly things could go.
    After it was over, I just wanted to forget the whole ordeal, and I had a scared, little girl who didn’t understand why mommy had left her for a few days, and what happened to the baby brother or sister she was supposed to have. Then I got pregnant again, and had another healthy girl, and life moved on. I never tried to go back and piece together what happened, and how the doctors could have handled it differently.

    Sorry for all the detail. This is not something I usually think about or discuss. It never occurred to me before that my case was part of a whole problem of women’s lives being endangered by “right to life” medical personnel delaying or refusing abortions. A cruel irony, that “right to life” slogan, isn’t it?

  9. cactuswren says

    It came damned near to happening here in Phoenix: a nun on a hospital ethics committee was excommunicated for allowing a woman who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension an abortion. (The woman’s doctors said her chance of dying was “nearly 100%”. She was eleven weeks pregnant.)

    The nun was reinstated as a member of the Church, but the hospital that employed her has been stripped of its Catholic status. According to Bishop Thomas Olmsted, “In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld.” (To which the hospital’s president replied, “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”)

  10. dianne says

    How about a story of what happens when it’s done better? Some details omitted or changed.

    Young woman about 11 or 12 weeks pregnant comes into the hospital suffering from symptoms that could be explained by disease A or disease B. Disease A is a condition of pregnancy that can only be treated with termination of the pregnancy, either by abortion or delivery. Disease B is a condition that occurs more often in pregnancy but is not primarily due to pregnancy and can be treated by expensive and mildly risky treatment X. It’s not clear which she has and she is interested in maintaining the pregnancy so a termination that may not be needed is not optimal either. I get called to see if it’s disease B. It looks like disease A to me and I say so. Quite a number of specialists get called in. Long discussions with the patient. As the day goes on, it gets more and more clear that this is disease A. If disease A is not treated, the patient will develop organ failure and may-but won’t necessarily-die in the short term. (Organ failure will, of course, shorten her life in the long run.) The consensus is that it’s disease A. She has the abortion within hours of the diagnosis and is essentially well again the next day. Every lab abnormality has normalized by 48 hours after the termination, confirming the correctness of the diagnosis. She goes home healthy, with normal organ function, and still fertile.

    That could have been Halappanvar’s story if the doctors involved had acted in an ethical manner and the laws had not discouraged ethical behavior.

  11. says

    I remember reading the report above, and it mentions that the doctors cannot act without the board’s deliberation and permission, so I’d hesitate to blame it all on unethical doctors. The report also included narratives of doctors who lied to the board about the severity of the condition or about the condition of the fetus in order to be able to save their patients’ lives, which has a high chance of them losing their jobs such as the nun mentioned in comment #10.

    It’s a terrible system–criminal–and I’ll be sure that no women in my family (which happens to be Catholic) attend a Catholic hospital.

  12. says

    hp – ach, god, that’s horrendous. And don’t be sorry for all the detail! That’s the whole point, isn’t it – this isn’t some abstract thing, it’s people’s lives and health. And happiness, when you remember the children and partners and relatives of women killed or allowed to die this way.

    cactus wren @ 10, I know, I posted about that case a lot. But in a way it gives false comfort, because people may conclude that all hospital admins will do what St Joseph’s did and ignore their bishop, and that’s not the case.

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