The ACLU of Illinois represents Melanie Jones, a Chicago area woman who was denied critical health care by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center. A Mercy doctor refused to remove Ms. Jones’ intrauterine device after it had become dislodged when she fell in her home. Ms. Jones was bleeding and cramping, but the doctor said that she was prohibited from removing the IUD because of religious restrictions imposed on her practice. Specifically, the doctor told her that she could not remove the IUD and alleviate Ms. Jones’ pain because Ms. Jones was a woman using her IUD to prevent pregnancy. We have filed a charge of sex discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on Ms. Jones’ behalf. Ms. Jones was forced to wait more than 10 days to receive care, because Mercy elevated its religious directives over Ms. Jones’ health needs.
After falling in her home and experiencing bleeding and pain, Ms. Jones called an obstetrician-gynecologist in her insurance network and made an appointment. The doctor she saw examined Ms. Jones and confirmed that her IUD had become dislodged and it needed to be removed. Rather than conduct the quick procedure that would have alleviated Ms. Jones’ pain and bleeding and prevented additional risks, the doctor sent her away without care. She told Ms. Jones that her “hands were tied” by Mercy’s religious restrictions, which barred treatment involving a non-hormonal IUD, because its sole purpose was to prevent pregnancy. The doctor also said she could not refer Ms. Jones for care, because every health care provider in her network operated under the Catholic health care restrictions.
Mercy requires that all of its facilities and physicians abide by broad religious directives called the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The ERDs demand that all Catholic health care providers adopt them as policy and require adherence to them as a condition of medical privileges and employment. A broad prohibition against providing contraception-related services is just one of the many restrictions that the ERDs place on the provision of health care at Catholic hospitals. According to the Mercy physician Ms. Jones saw, Mercy’s internal policy implementing this directive requires doctors to deny women with IUDs used to prevent pregnancy any treatment related to those IUDs, even when compliance requires turning women away like Ms. Jones—who come to Mercy bleeding, in pain, and in need of immediate care.