Next month, my doctor will put me to sleep to deliver my third child via C-section, and there’s a chance I may never wake up.
About a decade ago, I was diagnosed with two brain tumors that makes giving birth vaginally like playing Russian Roulette. One wrong push could be my last. To mitigate the risk, my doctors agreed that I would undergo a C-section and then get my tubes tied. They did so for two reasons: First, the safest time to tie my tubes is after the C-section, because I’ll already be opened up. Second, to undergo anesthesia and get cut open again in my condition could kill me.
My hospital, Genesys Regional Medical Center in central Michigan, knows this. Nevertheless, it has denied me this routine procedure because tubal ligation—the medical term for getting your tubes tied—is against the hospital’s religious beliefs. Why? Because it closes off the possibility of becoming pregnant again. You see, the hospital is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and under its Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services, the procedure is forbidden and described as “intrinsically evil.”
In denying my first request to obtain a tubal ligation, the hospital administrator recommended that I either deliver at Genesys as scheduled and then find some other hospital to tie my tubes, or find another delivery place altogether. This was a bitter pill to swallow, but what made it worse was that the hospital didn’t notify me of its decision until three weeks ago, even though my OB/GYN submitted a request to perform the procedure at Genesys in May.
In the letter, my doctor stressed how urgent the situation is because if the hospital refused my request, I’d have to find another doctor. Nevertheless, the hospital waited three full months to reply, leaving me less than seven weeks to leave the doctor I know and trust to find another who would be willing to take on my high-risk pregnancy and deliver my baby—something most doctors are very reluctant to do.
Shocked and scared, I contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Michigan. Immediately, my lawyer sent a letter to the hospital requesting it grant me a medical exception to their prohibition on tubal ligation. I want to be clear here: I’m not asking for something unheard of. Last year, Genesys granted a woman’s request for a medical exception and performed her tubal ligation. Explaining its ruling, the very same hospital administrator who informed me that I couldn’t get my tubes tied told my local newspaper: “Under church teaching, procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect and immediate purpose is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology, and a simpler treatment is not available.”
One of my doctors appealed to the hospital, explaining why my particular circumstances merited the exception granted to others. “To undergo a separate procedure requiring an additional episode of anesthesia,” my fetal medicine specialist explained in a letter, “when the tubal ligation can be performed with the anesthesia required for the cesarean delivery does not appear to make any sense in regard to patient safety.”
My situation should be allowed under church teaching, yet I’m still being denied the necessary care I need to protect my life.
Despite the ACLU’s demand letter and my doctor’s advocacy, the hospital has yet again denied my procedure. We’re giving the hospital until Friday to change its mind and if they don't respond, we plan to file formal complaints with the Civil Rights Department and a state agency.
I know some people say that after I give birth I have many other birth controls options to keep me from getting pregnant again. This isn’t true. Birth controls pills are too risky because no one knows how they could interact with my tumor. But more importantly, almost no method of birth control is 100 percent effective, which is why my husband is also getting a vasectomy. My doctors want to be so absolutely sure I don’t get pregnant again that both my husband and I will be sterilized. This is the kind of danger my condition puts me in.
But now the clock is ticking because I’m due in less than a month. Though it’s frightening to think about, it’s possible it may be too late for me, but I speak up not only for myself, but so that no other woman has to go through what I have. There’s no reason why Catholic bishops with no medical training should get to turn people away from the care they need.
I’ll soon be the mother of three beautiful children, and I would like to be around to help them become the beautiful people I know they will be. I never expected that the Catholic Church would so callously jeopardize my life to force its religious beliefs. But I continue to pray that its employees grant me the medical exception I’ve requested to get the life-saving health care I so desperately need.
Jessica Mann is a mother and wife fighting for her right to obtain a common procedure her hospital is denying her on religious grounds.