When Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment after experiencing bleeding and some pain, she suspected her IUD had become dislodged after a fall.
Her doctor confirmed this was the case, but informed her due to Catholic restrictions put in place by Chicago’s Mercy Hospital Health System, she’d be unable to remove the IUD.
Rewire reports that although the doctor conferred with her colleagues to double check that she was following protocol, she returned only to tell Jones that her “hands [were] tied”. She also revealed that in addition, no one in Jones’s insurance network could remove the IUD because they followed similar restrictions. Turns out, Mercy like many Catholic medical providers follow directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.
Yes, you read that right. If you seek help from a Catholic hospital for anything involving abortion, contraception or sterilization, there’s chance you’ll be turned away, regardless of how severe the emergency may be.
Jones told Rewire that she wasn’t even aware her health network was Catholic:
“I think my first feeling was shock. I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”
Rewire reports that although some hospitals are able to get around these rules by prescribing hormonal birth control for things like acne or heavy periods, they aren’t able to do the same for copper IUD’s which contain no hormone.
The ACLU filed complaints relating to Ms. Jones’s situation in late June noting some questionable comments from the doctor involved:
“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year.”
Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area and is a part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country. The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.
In a statement to Rewire Mercy maintains that the health and well-being of woman is a top priority:
“Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”
Mercy is in the process of reviewing its education process on directives for physicians and residents. Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration stated:
“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives.”
Jones left the doctor’s office still in pain and bleeding with only a few options. Her insurance would not cover any costs from urgent care services since her Blue Shield policy would only cover facilities within the all-Catholic network and she couldn’t afford $1000 emergency room bill. On the advice of a friend, Jones contacted the ACLU of Illinois where lawyers instructed her to call her insurance to expedite her network change. Jones spent five hours on the phone with the insurance company, but eventually was able to get her IUD removed five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after her IUD was initially dislodged. During those two weeks she suffered through intense cramping which was only eased by medication. But Jones says what hurts most was the stigma she faced throughout the entire ordeal:
“It felt heartbreaking. It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”