Catholic hospital wins abortion suit by ACLU

Federal court rules ACLU lacks standing to sue Catholic hospitals that refuse to provide abortion and contraceptive services 

Yesterday a federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against a Catholic hospital system that sought to force the hospitals to perform abortions against their religious beliefs. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, ruled that the ACLU lacked standing to sue Trinity Health Corporation which operates 86 facilities in 21 states.

Rather than addressing the issue of whether Catholic hospitals should be required to provide abortion or contraceptive services, the case turned on whether the ACLU could really be the plaintiff in the case, and whether there was an actual harm before the court.

In the decision, available here, the court found that the ACLU's allegations were too amorphous to constitute "discrete factual circumstances" that are required to bring these types of lawsuits and that the ACLU failed to identify what medical specific conditions currently placed their own members at risk. The court found that the alleged harm to bring to the court's attention was simply speculative and could happen. In other words, there was no subject matter jurisdiction.

Even if there was an actual ACLU individual plaintiff, birth cases are typically difficult to bring since there's a strong public policy against bringing "wrongful life" cases for times when a baby survives, and that the issues for an injunction at most would last only about 9 months when litigation can take years. Since this case involved issues of problematic pregnancy rather than elective abortions, it may be difficult for the ACLU to even claim that the harm falls under the exception to the mootness doctrine of being "capable of repetition yet evading review."

The ACLU says that it plans to appeal the decision, but it will more likely try to find another case to bring forward along these lines. In the meantime, the Catholic hospitals can continue to follow their religious beliefs.

Trinity Health was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

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