California tubal ligation fight heads to court Thursday

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A San Francisco judge is set to hear arguments Thursday over whether to require a Catholic hospital to perform a contraceptive procedure known as tubal ligation.

Attorneys for Rebecca Chamorro, the woman seeking the procedure, say Mercy Medical Center in Redding denied her the procedure. Chamorro wants to get the procedure immediately following her scheduled cesarean section Jan. 28 because she and her husband do not want more children.

Chamorro’s attorneys, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the procedure is safest when performed immediately after birth, and Chamorro has no choice but to use Mercy Medical Center because Redding is about 200 miles north of San Francisco and the next closest hospital she could go to is more than 70 miles away.

Chamorro’s lawyers are set to argue Thursday in favor of a preliminary injunction that would block Mercy Medical from refusing to allow the procedure.

Health care provider Dignity Health, which operates Mercy Medical and 38 other hospitals in California, Nevada and Arizona, says the tubal ligation Chamorro seeks is not medically necessary and would violate the hospital’s right to freedom of religion.

“The jurisprudence is unequivocal: A Catholic hospital may prohibit sterilization procedures that violate the core principles of the hospital’s faith,” attorneys for Dignity Health wrote in a court filing responding to Chamorro’s lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses Dignity Health of violating California laws against sex discrimination and the practice of medicine by corporations. Chamorro’s obstetrician sought permission from Mercy Medical to perform the procedure, according to her lawsuit.

The ACLU says the hospital allowed another woman to undergo a tubal ligation after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit.

Chamorro’s suit is part of a growing clash over birth control and abortion health care coverage. Dozens of U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses, charities and colleges have sued in federal court over the contraceptive coverage required under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Several evangelical nonprofits have also sued, arguing some of the birth control methods covered under the law are tantamount to abortion. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Hobby Lobby chain and other closely held private businesses with religious objections could opt out of the birth control mandate.

The ACLU has filed a complaint against a Michigan Catholic hospital that also refused to perform tubal ligation, according to Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU.

Amiri said the woman in that case was able to go to another hospital.

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