Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not Persons

4 Feb

On January 25, 2013, anti-choicers from across the country gathered to march on Washington DC, in a show of their support for fetal life. This year, I’d almost forgotten about the March for Life- mostly because the event is a ton of high schoolers who are bused in to increase numbers. It’s a way for teenagers to travel, have time off from school, and hang with their friends- and sometimes they even get a little extra credit for going. So I’m not really worried about hundreds of kids taking a vacation (although you should listen to @ClinicEscort talk to a train full of them about her abortion experience here).

What reminded me that the March of Life was happening soon, was an article posted on January 23 on a Colorado news website titled “In malpractice case, Catholic hospital argues fetuses aren’t people.

What?

Here’s a summary of what happened: in 2006, a woman who was 7 months pregnant with twins arrived at the hospital short of breath and vomiting. She passed out, and had a massive heart attack because of a clog in her artery. The doctor on call never showed up that night, the woman died less than an hour after entering the hospital, and the twins died in the womb. A terribly heartbreaking situation. The  husband is filing a wrongful-death lawsuit for the twins–he realized that his wife was beyond saving, but argues that the doctor should have arrived to perform a cesarean and saved the twins.

The Catholic hospital’s lawyers countered that fetuses aren’t people, and therefore the husband cannot file a wrongful-death suit for them.

What?

If you ever want to know if someone REALLY believes what they are saying, pin it against money, apparently. The hospital has twice–before a court, and an appeals court–argued that persons are born, and therefore the viable, 7 month gestation fetuses are not persons. Once again: the lawyers for a Catholic hospital which has a mission stating, “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” have said,

…the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

Now, there is a very important point here I’d like to make- if the Catholic lawyers had argued the other way, things could have been very different. If they had agreed that the twin fetuses could have a wrongful-death lawsuit filed for them, and that the Catholic hospitals recognized their personhood, they could have had the beginnings of legal precedent for recognizing fetuses as persons. Of course, many hospitals and laws already recognize the value of a viable fetus to a family, and this case couldn’t have banned abortion overnight. But they didn’t choose to do that- for this Catholic hospital, it seems that money is more important than fetal life.

I probably sound like I’m repeating myself a lot, but this is a big deal. If a Catholic hospital will argue in a court of law that fetuses aren’t persons, then perhaps we shouldn’t respect their argument when it’s based upon the concept that fetuses are persons (which is quite often). If they really, truly believed and supported their position, they wouldn’t argue against it. If even Catholic hospitals following the rules of the US Catholic Bishops (some of the biggest fighters against abortion) don’t believe their ideas, why should we consider laws they try to pass? Or let them have ways to opt out of the birth control mandate?

I don’t think we should. Of course, these types of things aren’t decisions I get to make personally. But I can remember these facts about antichoicers while I am having discussions with them: that anti-choice people get abortions too; that more people are calling themselves pro-life, but support for legal abortion has not decreased; that Catholic hospitals don’t always follow the idea that life begins at conception. Some people are incredibly sure of themselves, until they face a trial of their beliefs. My goal is not to change minds overnight, or push people further into their beliefs, but to open their mind to the vast possibilities around them. Sharing this story about a Catholic hospital denying the personhood of fetuses is one way to show the world is not completely black and white for anyone, but a huge ball of gray.

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