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Woman Denied Treatment By Catholic Hospital, Forced To Drive 80 Miles For Help With Miscarriage

By Monica Bielanko |

Do you want these guys making important health care decisions for you?

Kathleen Prieskorn was three months pregnant and working as a waitress when she realized she was having her second miscarriage. She rushed to her doctor’s office where, as she tells writer Molly M. Ginty at Ms. Magazine, she learned her amniotic sac had torn.

Prieskorn lives in Manchester, New Hampshire with her husband. The nearest hospital had recently merged with a Catholic hospital so her doctor could not help her complete her miscarriage.

“… because my doctor could still detect a fetal heartbeat, he wasn’t allowed to give me a uterine evacuation that would help me complete my miscarriage.”

To get someone to perform the procedure, the poor woman had to drive eighty miles to a hospital that would perform the procedure. Prieskorn has no car and no health insurance, so an expensive ambulance trip was out of the question. Instead, as Ginty reports, Prieskorn’s doctor gave her $400 of his own cash and put her in a cab.

I am dumbfounded. How could a hospital turn away someone who might die? What about the Hippocratic Oath? Making a bleeding woman drive eighty miles for help is certainly unethical. But religion trumps ethics, I guess? How is this happening in America?  Is this the new perversion of freedom of religion?

“During that trip, which seemed endless, I was not only devastated, but terrified,” Prieskorn tells Ginty. “I knew that if there were complications I could lose my uterus—and maybe even my life.”

It could happen to you. It could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. You don’t have to be Catholic to end up at a Catholic hospital. In fact, one of the nearest hospitals to me is a Catholic hospital. God forbid I have to go there in an emergency situation that goes against their religion.

It’s happening all the time to women everywhere. According to Ginty, “Catholic institutions have became the largest not-for-profit source of healthcare in America, treating 1 in 6 hospital patients.” The Catholic hospitals have to follow Ethical and Religious Directives that are issued by the 258 member U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Oh goody. So the religious beliefs of a bunch of men (probably all old, white men who are, of course, celibate) are dictating the reproductive health care millions of women receive? And, as in Prieskorn’s case, forcing life-threatening situations that are at odds with what hospitals were created to do in the first place?  You know, like, SAVE LIVES regardless of stuff like race and religion? Apparently so. The Catholic hospitals are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services and those ultra conservative rules are issued by the 258-member U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Because of the directives, doctors and nurses at Catholic-affiliated facilities are not allowed to perform procedures that the Catholic Church deems “intrinsically immoral, such as abortion and direct sterilization.” Those medical personnel also cannot give rape survivors drugs to prevent pregnancy unless there is “no evidence that conception has already occurred.” The only birth control they can dispense is advice about “natural family planning”— laborious daily charting of a woman’s basal temperature and cervical mucus in order to abstain from sex when she is ovulating—which only 0.1 percent of women use. The Catholic directives involve not just abortion and birth control but ectopic pregnancies, embryonic stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, sterilizations and more.

Ginty details several situations during which women were denied crucial treatment.  In 2009 a 27-year-old, 11-weeks pregnant patient in Arizona “staggered into the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix with such severe pulmonary hypertension that her doctors determined she would die without an immediate abortion.”  Because of the severity of the situation the ethics committee voted to break hospital policy and advise the woman of her option of a lifesaving abortion. She decided to do it, but the bishop overseeing the Phoenix diocese heard about the situation and said St. Joseph’s could no longer be a Catholic institution unless it agreed to follow Catholic “moral teachings.” He excommunicated a nun and said they could no longer hold Catholic Mass in the hospital’s chapel.

Another Arizona woman went to the ER of a Catholic hospital while miscarrying one of her twin babies.  But she was sent to another hospital after doctors refused to help her, saying the fetus was alive, although not viable The incidents are piling up.  Doctors at a Catholic institution in New York allegedy refused to terminate an ectopic pregnancy even though the embryo could not possibly survive where it attached outside the woman’s uterus.

How is this happening? How are women being denied essential medical care? Ginty answers some of those questions in her most excellent article and it should come as no surprise to any woman that George W. Bush had a hand in things, mucking up the works.

The debacle starts with anti-choice legislation. The U.S. Congress started to pass “conscience clauses” pushed by the Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion forces in the immediate wake of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. Today, these laws apply not only to physicians and nurses who oppose abortion, but to entire institutions whose “consciences” allow them to withhold medically indicated care.

In 2008 the George W. Bush administration issued regulations giving healthcare workers the right to refuse
to take part in any procedure that “violates” their religious beliefs. The Obama administration moved to reverse this policy in February but 47 states and the District of Columbia now allow individuals or entities to refuse women reproductive health services, information or referrals.

What do you think? Should Catholic hospitals retain the right to refuse healthcare? Or should they be required to help anyone needing care? Should religions even be able to open hospitals?  What would Jesus do?  I think that answer is obvious, what about you?


Miscarriages and Expectant Fathers: How does this affect men?

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About Monica Bielanko


Monica Bielanko

Monica Bielanko was raised on the wild frontier of late 1970's Utah. She is a recovering Mormon who married the guitar player of an unknown band. She's been married to her Babble Voices writing partner, Serge Bielanko, for the past nine years. Her personal blog, The Girl Who was in the top ten of last year's Top 50 list. Read bio and latest posts → Read Monica's latest posts →

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41 thoughts on “Woman Denied Treatment By Catholic Hospital, Forced To Drive 80 Miles For Help With Miscarriage

  1. DeathMetalMommy says:

    This isn’t like a restaurant refusing to serve someone dressed inappropriately. This is life and death. “First do no harm” is the oath that doctors take. How can they adhere to that and still follow Catholic “moral teachings?” Refusing to help is doing harm. Why be a doctor if you aren’t going to do what you swore to do?

  2. Anonimom says:

    Since their actions go against what you believe, you have no problem asking them to go against what they believe? Basically you’re saying that these institutions should do what you believe because you believe it’s right and you believe they are wrong. Well, guess what. They believe that they are right and you are wrong. It seems a bit hypocritical to say that they have to something based on your beliefs even if it goes against their beliefs.

  3. goddess says:

    If they receive any public funding or reimbursement they should be held to the highest standard of care- and if that includes a procedure to save the woman’s life or is deemed the SAFEST course of treatment, yep- they should.

  4. Anonimom says:

    And has anyone been keeping count of the number of anti-Catholic posts that are this site lately? It really seems like someone has an ax to grind with the church.

  5. Monica Bielanko says:

    @anonimom – My “belief” as you call it, is that doctors and a hospital institution should save someone’s life if the situation requires it. I hardly think a miscarriage wherein the fetus is no longer viable is more important than a woman bleeding to death.

    Also, this is the first Catholic-related post I believe I’ve written here. If someone else happens to have written a Catholic-related story, that’s not my deal. What? You think our bosses have given us a directive to slam the Catholic church as much as possible? Babble’s top secret agenda is to subtly grind away at and slowly overthrow a religion with millions of members that is thousands of years old? Listen, if it’s news, it makes the site.

  6. jeff says:

    Don’t put all churches in the same category! Florida Hospital and many other medical facilities and medical educational institutions are founded by the Seventh-day Adventist church. God has a strong healing ministry. Though I personally wish there was never any need for something like abortion, because it is cruel, we cannot ignore the fact that it carries gray areas where if the mother dies, so does the baby anyway- and if it is just the baby that is not viable, is it cruel to not prolong the death? I don’t have the right answers, but I can’t see turning someone away that needs healing. Though I understand that there are are rules in the religious sense to follow, let us not ignore the Ethe ones about helping, healing, and mercy… Jesus spoke to the pharisees and saducees about practicing the former without neglecting the latter, with regard to kindness and mercy… book of Matthew.

  7. MonicaBielanko says:

    @ Jeff – Excellent point! If one were to ask oneself “What would Jesus do?” isn’t the answer obvious?

  8. Sarah says:

    wow. I always thought catholic teaching permitted interference to save the mother’s life, so i looked it up. I was mistaken.

  9. Amanda says:

    I had a similar experience at a Catholic hospital in 2009. I had a positive pregnancy test and started bleeding heavily shortly thereafter. My blood tests showed that my hormone levels were staying at a consistent level, though. My doctor determined that I was about 5 weeks along with an ectopic pregnancy. She sent me to the radiology lab at the hospital that is next to her offices for an ultrasound, but it was inconclusive. Another OB/GYN confirmed my doctor’s diagnosis, however, and I was sent to the ER for treatment with methotrexate, which would end the pregnancy. The OB resident wanted to treat me, but the head ER doctor told her that she couldn’t. He said it was against hospital policy because even though my hormone levels had indicated a nonviable pregnancy, my ultrasound was inconclusive. Within earshot of me and my husband, he said it could be like giving me an abortion. I was already an emotional wreck, because this was my first pregnancy, and I really wanted to have children. His comments made the experience even worse. After going back and forth for a couple of hours, I was sent home around midnight without treatment and told to return to the OB clinic in the exact same hospital that next day, because their policy was different. To top it all off, my insurance company was billed over $1,500 for my time in the ER even though I wasn’t treated! They fought it, though, and never had to pay. When I had my son last summer, I refused to deliver at this particular hospital and opted for one that is a little further away from my home. I will never, ever go to a Catholic hospital for any kind of reproductive issues again.

  10. Sara says:

    There are lawmakers who would like to make this law in every hospital in the country. Who cares about the woman her health is far less important than a dead or dying fetus.

  11. Maybe says:

    This is disgusting and it really makes it more and more obvious to me that religious entities shouldn’t be involved in serving the general public in this manner, hospitals and orphanages etc. They are in the position to serve everyone, not just Catholics or Christians. If they are unwilling to serve everyone, they shouldn’t be in the position where communities are forced to rely on them. They shouldn’t be getting tax payer money, they should be paying taxes. How anyone can claim that these people have some kind of moral authority while repeatedly acting in a manner that treats women and children as if they are some bit of collateral damage, it’s sick. This particular church repeatedly shows in action that what it really cares about is money, power and tradition. They are certainly pro-life, life in utero mostly.

  12. Amanda says:

    Well, I did a little research, and apparently the Catholic church is only ok with surgical removal of the tube which results in the indirect death of the fetus in an ectopic pregnancy and not ok wit drug treatments that result in the direct death of the fetus. Easy for them to say – they’re mem whose lives wouldn’t be at risk by letting an ectopic pregnancy continue.

  13. jeneria says:

    I don’t understand how religion trumps the Hippocratic oath that doctors take. Would they refuse a bullet wound victim surgery because they don’t agree with his/her lifestyle? Do they deny treatment to drug addicts because they don’t agree with the lifestyle? Or does this faith based medical dispersal only focus on women and their bodies?
    This is one of the many reasons that I don’t subscribe to organized religion. Everything is interpreted by people, mainly men, and the entire message and point of the religious doctrine is distorted or completely ignored based on prevailing moral trends.

  14. Tanya says:

    First of all, lets get our facts straight. She was not having a miscarriage, the baby was still ALIVE and viable. She was asking for an ABORTION from a CATHOLIC hospital. These facts are left out to make right to life look wrong. Read this womans story. This world is a sick, twisted place when the first choice and seemingly the preferred choice of a so-called professional doctor….

    “Can anyone help me I am 12 weeks 3 days & had a cvs 3 days ago & unfortunately suffering from a tear in my amniotic fluid sac. I returned to see my OB the following day & was told that unfortunately there is a 2% chance this could happen & to expect the worse as there is hardly any Amniotic fluid surrounding my baby. I was offered the option to abort or to go home & rest & let nature take it’s course… I have seem to stop leaking fluid & the baby has a normal heart rate so why would I be offered an abortion so soon? Pls as anyone heard of reproducing the fluid at such an early stage to help my baby survive ?”

  15. anon says:

    It doesn’t sound from what you’ve quoted that she was asking for an abortion. She was asking for a way “to help my baby survive,” which apparently wasn’t possible. I understand that at that stage of development, the lungs simply can’t develop without amniotic fluid.

  16. goddess says:

    @Tanya: YOU research. I had PROM @32 wks and had to be hospitalized for the remainder of the pregnancy. At 3 months? Give me stats. Oh- and she was bleeding as well. As one who went from bleeding to hemorrhage overnight with my first pregnancy, I don’t think you are in any position to make this call. Her care should have been between HER and her doctor= not the RCC. And they should forfeit their tax-exempt status and federal reimbursements for all medical care.

  17. Providence says:

    As reported, this is a horrifying story. But a key detail makes no sense to me: I great up near Manchester, NH — it is not in the boonies. There have to be 4 other hospitals within 30 miles. Even Boston is only 60 miles away! How did she have to go 80 miles??? (Perhaps I should read the actual article.)

  18. Catherine says:

    I gave birth at a Catholic hospital, as that’s the one my ob was affiliated with. He recommended I have an IUD placed after I gave birth to present pregnancy (it didn’t take, and I’m on the mini-pill). So not all Catholic hospitals are against preventing pregnancy.

  19. Catherine says:

    “prevent” not “present”. Whoops!

  20. May Trix says:

    It’s one thing to deny an elective abortion. I’m pro-choice, but I would never deny a healthcare provider their right to refuse an elective surgery that goes against their beliefs.
    But a life-saving procedure should never ever be denied. EVER.

  21. tiredofthebs says:

    This story is a crock of crap! There are 9 hospitals in a 30 mile radius of the town she lives in! Also, remember the little thing called the Constitution? It specifically states that we are allowed the freedom to practice religion.

  22. clara says:

    Amniotic sacs reseal all of the time & moms also miscarry safely at home every day. It doesn’t sound like her life was ever in danger.

  23. J says:

    This is interesting. I was turned away from kaiser hospital in caliornia for not having insurance while miscarrying when inwas 22. The only hospital to take me was 10-15miles away and that was a catholic hospital

  24. J says:

    This is interesting. I was turned away from kaiser hospital in caliornia for not having insurance while miscarrying when inwas 22. The only hospital to take me was 10-15miles away and that was a catholic hospital.

  25. Beth says:

    If you don’t like the Catholic rules don’t go to the Catholic hospital. I should not be required to do something that is against what I believe, and neither should they.

  26. e says:

    I was confused by the 80 miles things, too. Certainly Catholic Medical Center is one of the best hospitals in Manchester (where I live). But the Elliot Hospital system is also a fantastic system right in the city. I’m guessing she had to drive to Dartmouth in Hanover, but certainly Boston would have been closer.

    Not that this is the same (at all), but my son recently fell and required stitches. The closest hospital was the Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, but since we’re a two mom family we drove the extra five minutes to Eliott Hospital. We know how the Catholic church feels about our family and didn’t want to deal with any potential problems.

    It’s a dangerous business when the church is allowed to decide who needs medical care, and even what constitutes medical care.

  27. babs duprix says:

    someone above said something about having an axe to grine with the church- yeah, that’s the point. the church shouldn’t be involved with ANY sort of health-care. if it was up to them we’d all be lined up at lourdes, drinking contaminated water and hoping for the blessed virgin’s mercy. you do have the freedom to practice religion- so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. the tribes of papua new guinea cant hunt heads in america- i can’t legally peirce my daughter’s nose as is customary in my religion, and catholics don’t get to murder sick people.

  28. Dee says:

    This story is a load of baloney. No hospital, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation would deny anyone seriously in jeopardy of losing their life treatment. That being said, miscarriage is NOT a life threatening (to the mother anyway) condition. It’s painful and horrible and traumatic and involves lots of blood, but so does childbirth. The hospital made the right call in NOT killing a baby who had a living heartbeat. There are many cases in which the amniotic sac has sealed itself back up with the mom being on complete bedrest and diligent medical care. The 80 miles she was “forced” to travel was likely because this Catholic hospital was NOT the only health care facility to deny her preferred course of “treatment” in terminating the baby’s life… it’s just the one this author chose to focus on to forward their obvious political agenda.

  29. Terry says:

    I agree, sounds bogus. I am from there too…there are many closer hospitals. Either the 80 mile number was a mistake, or the woman opted to go to the further hospital for some reason.

  30. Anon says:

    If the author of this article has an axe to grind, by all means, grind away but at least be up front about it. The way this information was presented raises more questions than it gives answers. Obviously, the issue has been raised about the location of other hospitals in her area. However, I keep going back to the issue of why it was a life or death issue for this woman to get a D&C? Especially when there was still a fetal heartbeat? I, unfortunately, have had several miscarriages and never had a D&C. My doctor, at a hospital with no religious affiliation, recommended that we let nature take its course. I know several others who have had the same recommendation. It isn’t pleasant, but our bodies are remarkably efficient at healing themselves. Plus, there can be adverse side effects with D&C’s that my doctor wanted me to avoid if possible.
    It amazes me how moms can be so anti-intervention when it comes to childbirth, while so aggressively seeking it out in other areas of their reproductive health.

  31. Karen says:

    I have mixed feelings about this story, I don’t think we have all the facts which makes it hard to judge the true drama of the situation. I think that although there was more then one hospital in the area it could be because she was uninsured the only hospital that would treat her was 80 miles away. I have a family member who is the quality controal coordinator for a catholic hospital in the heart of Chicago, IL and I know for a fact that non state or federal supported hospitals only have to stablize someone for transport to a state hospital. Dose that mean they refuse a bleeding women in their waiting room no not at all. What it does mean is that they will not admit someone from the ER to the hospital for ongoing treatment. On the other side of that my OBGYN at one time was located in that hospital and once my son was born not only was I offered a number of different options for birthcontrol they also hold catholic masses on a semidaily bases in the hospital it self.
    I’m honestly not sure who makes the rules and how they have to be followed but I do know that in the case of roman catholic church if they would allow women any high ranking positions a lot of these anti female reporductive health laws would be seriously changed.

  32. Ohlalamum says:

    As a woman and mother this is disgusting and infuriating. What is incredible is that this is an American Catholic church issue, European Catholic churches do not impose the same radical beliefs on their adherents that American ones do. My husband was raised in a pious French Catholic family. Abortion, miscarriage, and other personal matters were never discussed in his family or church because they are considered personal and a woman’s choice. The French, Spanish, and Italian people (a majority of whom are Catholic) would never tolerate this sort of blatant intrusion of the church into their personal lives. Catholic leaders have the right to their beliefs, that is the beauty of the US, but they should not have the right to impose those beliefs on individuals either via withholding essential medical care or via lobbying for religiously-biased laws.

  33. Heather says:

    I am Pro-Choice (but only because I’ve been in the position to have to choose to carry my fatal diagnosis baby to term or induce and deliver to end the pregnancy before 24 weeks – the fact that we were forced to make a decision in just days, having found out our son would die at 23 weeks, and how few hospitals will perform an induction for situations like mine, I am now Pro-Choice). So instead of inducing and giving birth to my micro-preemie baby who would most likely not survive delivery, we are carrying to term and then after he’s born, watching him possibly suffer and definitely die – to me, there is no difference.

    As for the hospitals, sometimes it is very hard to find one non-religious based (I’m in St. Louis and only ONE hospital would have taken us), but it sounds like the first woman didn’t need to travel 80 miles for a miscarriage that may or may not happen. I don’t understand why she was wanting a procedure to end her pregnancy when she could have miscarried naturally – better for her and future pregnancies and perfectly safe, whereas any procedures carry more risks. I’ve miscarried at home several times (one was even at 13 weeks). There was still a heartbeat for cryin out loud, so the baby was not dead yet.

    Ectopic pregnancy – now that one is shocking that a hospital wouldn’t give methotrexatee, but I am confused that they were calling it ectopic but couldn’t confirm?!?!? What kind of stone age ultrasound equipment were they using?

    But more to the point, for reproductive health, you can’t go to Catholic or religions with similar beliefs hospitals. Yes, it’s frustrating but they have their own rules. It was so hurtful for us in our situation because we love and want our son desperately and the knowledge that we will watch him die after birth haunts us, but I understand that the hospitals have their policies, religious or non.

  34. Alicia says:

    “Do no harm” on a patient that’s already alive should always trump religious belief when it comes to medicine. Women don’t stop being individuals with rights simply because they’re carrying a pregnancy that may be viable. Taking their rights to proper medical care is disgusting and should be illegal. Religion belongs at home and at places of worship, period.

  35. Patricia Bowling says:

    how could you God help you how can you be so cold?

  36. Nay says:

    Wait, so if people who oppose abortion are “anti-choice” doesn’t that make people who support abortion “anti-life”? Use pro/anti-abortion if you want to sound unbiased. Also, would it be of more benefit if the Catholic hospitals just shut down completely? Because that’s the other option for them. Catholicism teaches that fetuses are living human beings from conception, thus abortion is murder, so they CAN’T abort babies. If you want somewhere that believes otherwise, go elsewhere.

  37. goddess says:

    @Dee Anon: have either of you ever heard of incomplete spontaneous abortion? Read up on it. I hemorrhaged from one.

  38. Physician says:

    From a physician standpoint (and yes, I work at a Catholic facility and am NOT Catholic), NO ONE who had anything life threatening, (incomplete miscarriage or otherwise) would be denied healthcare. HOWEVER, if you are not having life threatening bleeding and have a live fetus, please do not expect me to violate my ethical beliefs. And yes, if you had life threatening bleeding or injurious bleeding, you will definately be in my OR having a proceedure done. Please remember that there are 2 sides to every story and a fetal heartbeat makes the situation very difficut

  39. HLA says:

    @J – I had a similar experience with a Catholic hospital. I was young, terrified, miscarrying at 19 weeks. I was bleeding very heavily, but because my husband and I were uninsured, I was turned away from the hospital closest to my home (it has no religious affiliation). I was sure I’d be turned away (I still remember my mother always having horrible things to say about the religion) but decided to try the Catholic hospital anyway…they were wonderful. My (Catholic) doctor treated me immediately, he and the nurses (many of them Catholic) were exceptionally kind and sympathetic. They even set me up with a counselor to help me deal with losing my baby.
    I’m not Catholic, by the way. I converted to Buddhism when I was younger after being raised in a non-religious family. The hospital staff didn’t mind one bit, they were very careful to be respectful of my beliefs and practices. Buddhist’s believe that life begins at conception and that a person is still aware for a period of time after death so it is very important to maintain an atmosphere that is calm, stable and compassionate before, during and after clinical death. They did everything they could to provide that for us, then allowed us quiet time alone to pray as his spirit left his body…When I gave birth to my daughter 3 years ago (after another complicated pregnancy), I chose to do so at that same Catholic hospital – and this time, they were happy to be able to celebrate her life with us.
    There’s good and bad in any group – Catholics are no worse than any other.

  40. Liam says:

    I concur with the bogus ness of the “forced to drive 80 miles”. Boston and DHMC at Dartmouth are both around 60 miles away. There are hospitals much closer in Nashua, Concord and several other towns, as well as other options RIGHT IN MANCHESTER.

    I have to say, if they get such an easily verified fact wrong, then I have to either distrust their ability to fact check the whole damned article, or I have to assume that they did it on purpose in order to make a stronger case for their preconceived message.

    In either case, I cry BS on the whole thing, until or unless someone can point me to a reputable site which has the story and can resolve some of these discrepancies.

  41. MayasMomma214 says:

    There is no right or wrong or moral dilemas in life and death situations. Sorry, but they HAVE to draw the line of seperation of church and state somewhere, and the hospital should be 1 of those places. If the only hospital in a given area is religious-based, then they should be REQUIRED to offer the same treatment as any other hospital. I’m not willing to die because some idiot in a stupid hat (I am Catholic but this is still ridiculous and quite embarassing to most Catholics) thinks my non-viable fetus is more important than me. Don’t give abortions-that’s cool- but don’t let me die if my fetus isn’t even VIABLE! WTF guys??? MY life is less important then a zygote/fetus?

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