The Catholic University of America





Professor Robert Destro Comments on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show
about ACLU Lawsuit Against Catholic Bishops



   Print Friendly and PDF


Catholic University law school Professor Robert Destro was part of a lively and polarized panel of guests on the Dec. 4 edition of National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show, discussing the recent legal action brought by the ACLU against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 

The ACLU has filed a negligence lawsuit against the bishops over anti-abortion policies that it claims endanger women’s lives. The move comes on behalf of Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman whose local hospital treated her with Tylenol and sent her home twice after her water broke 18 weeks into her pregnancy. The suit alleges that the hospital, the only one within 30 miles of Means' home, did not tell her that her fetus was doomed, nor that inducing labor and terminating the pregnancy was the only way to reduce the risk of a dangerous infection.
The program assembled a panel of five experts holding widely divergent views to discuss the case and its resulting lawsuit.
“[The ACLU] didn’t sue the doctor, they didn’t sue the hospital…This is really a direct attack on the teaching of the Catholic bishops and Catholic hospitals,” said Destro, who framed the Means case as one of hospital employees failing to properly follow the complex directives that regulate certain procedures and practices in Catholic hospitals.
“What I’m hearing is that we may have some training problems and on the ground problems,” Destro concluded.  
Not surprisingly, the program’s ACLU representative saw it differently. Daniel Mach, director of a program on freedom of religion and belief for the organization, wondered “How far does religious liberty extend? You have a right to act on those beliefs but not when those beliefs cause harm to a mother and her child.’
One out of every 6 hospital beds in America is in a Catholic hospital. The USCCB sets the rules for Catholic hospitals on many aspects of care, including abortion, making the bishops, in the ACLU’s view, “ultimately responsible” for care delivered.
Not so, argued John Haas, president, The National Catholic Bioethics Center.
“You could hardly sue the American Medical Association if a member of the AMA didn’t follow one of the directives,” he said.
Destro said the target of the ACLU suit raises larger questions about its agenda. “As a lawyer the question we would ask is ‘why isn’t this just a garden variety malpractice case?’ said Destro.
The program’s guests included:
  • Daniel Mach, Director of a program on freedom of religion and belief, ACLU.
  • Julie Rovner, Health policy correspondent, NPR; author of "Health Care Policy and Politics A-Z."
  • Robert Destro, Professor of Law and director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion, Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America.
  • Dr. Debra Stulberg, Assistant professor, department of family medicine, University of Chicago
  • John Haas, President, the National Catholic Bioethics Center