Catholic Hospital Opposes Fetal Personhood When Money is On the Line
A Catholic hospital argued against so-called fetal personhood late last month—but only to avoid paying out in a wrongful death suit.
The case stemmed from an error made after a woman seven months pregnant with twins came to St. Thomas More Hospital in 2006. Her condition was fatal, and the obstetrician on call never answered his page to perform a cesarean section.
The father sued the hospital for the deaths of his unborn children, but Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act does not consider fetuses to be “persons.” The hospital argued it should be immune to lawsuits under this reasoning, despite its directive as a member of the Catholic Church to uphold the sanctity of life “from the moment of conception until death.”
Young leaders of the anti- and pro-choice movements differed in their interpretation of the ensuing fallout. Some in the former group faulted the law, not the hospital, for the seeming inconsistency.
“It's terrible PR for the hospital, but the only legal approach they can take,” said Ross Twele, a member of the advocacy group Carolina Students for Life.
Twele contended that the hospital was forced into its current position by the state law, which he said is outdated and needs to be amended to protect the unborn. He pointed to a bill recently proposed in the Colorado House of Representatives that would have conferred some rights to fetuses, but was defeated.
“I think the message to the young pro-life generation is that there's a real disconnect right now between our society's laws and our society's values,” Twele told Campus Progress. “[Our] generation will be responsible for forming and reforming these laws."
But Kaori Sueyoshi, co-chair of the Students United for Reproductive Justice UNC chapter, disagreed that the laws were at fault.
“The hospital was only willing to promote personhood until their own money was on the line,” Sueyoshi told Campus Progress. “This clearly demonstrates their lack of real commitment to their beliefs in defending anti-choice arguments surrounding abortion and contraceptive access.
Sueyoshi disputed the need to update fetal rights into state laws, arguing they are dangerous both to the religious liberty of the patient and to the range of reproductive health options for women. She pointed to her own struggle being a young pro-choice advocate in a Republican-dominated state, where reproductive rights are vulnerable and targeted.
“I see this as extra motivation to keep fighting for the full range of reproductive health options for all,” she said. “If anti-choice institutions are unwilling to defend their beliefs when faced with fines or legal issues, we should be cautious in trusting them in other areas of reproductive health rights as well.”
Two lower courts have sided with the hospital, though an appeal to the Colorado State Supreme Court is pending. Earlier this week the hospital reversed its position and announced it will no longer pursue dismissal under the Wrongful Death Act, instead denying medical negligence.
Jenn Nowicki is a reporter for Campus Progress.