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Tamesha Means Sues Catholic Bishops Over Basic Neglect that Led to Infant's Death

Mercy Health Muskegon in Michigan is a Catholic hospital whose religious directives demand that an unborn baby’s life be protected by all means possible, even if it comes at potential risk to the mother.

In December of 2010, when Tamesha Means’ water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy, she rushed to this hospital, only to be denied accurate information and care, and to be exposed to dangerous infections. Turned away not only once but twice, Means returned to the hospital two days after the initial visit. This time, when she began to deliver the baby, she was admitted, but the infant died mere hours later.

Means now finds herself at the center of a lawsuit filed in federal court. She, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which runs Mercy Health Muskegon, for the treatment she and the unknown number of women around the country have received at Catholic hospitals.

“I’m thinking about women all over,” Means has said of the lawsuit. When, in 2012, she was informed that four other women had had similar experiences at Mercy, Means said she “felt worse than when it was happening to me.  Something needed to be done.”

Dr. Douglas W. Laube, an obstetrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, describes Mercy Health’s treatment of Means as “basic neglect”, and adds that “it could have turned into a disaster, with both baby and mother dying.”

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Means describes her experience when she first arrived in December 2010, with her water prematurely broken. “I was told to go home,” she says.

When she returned to the hospital a second time, Means says “they sent me home with no answers.  I was begging. ‘You guys have to help me. I am in a lot of pain. I can’t keep going home like this.’”

While this is yet another instance of a clash between religious rights and medical care, the case is unique in that Means is not suing the hospital, but rather the larger organization behind it.

Currently, about one in every six hospital beds in America is Catholic. In some regions, this number is growing as they ally with non-Catholic medical groups.

As Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the civil liberties union, has said, “This isn’t about religious freedom, it’s about medical care.”

After delivering the baby and learning of its death, Means, a mother of three other children ages two to 13, stayed in the hospital for two days. Describing the painful process of leaving without her child, she says, “Before we could get on the elevator, we were stopped by one of the nurses and were told, ‘You need to call a funeral home or someone to come pick up your baby.’”

Sources: Cosmopolitan, The New York Times

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