Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California, which is part of the SF-based, mostly Catholic Dignity Health network, has come under fire from the ACLU of Northern California after refusing to perform tubal ligations (also known as tying one's tubes) on two women who asked for them. The procedure, deemed one of the safest and most effective procedures for a woman to undergo immediately following her last intended childbirth, is considered a medically necessary procedure by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Mercy Hospital considers it "sterilization," which along with abortion and contraception are things that it does not provide on religious and ethical grounds, as a Catholic hospital.

As the Chronicle reports, the hospital relented in the face of possible legal action earlier this year in the case of Rachel Miller, who was set to give birth in September and whose doctor had recommended tubal ligation. Citing that there was not another childbirth facility with 70 miles, Miller and the ACLU argued for the necessity of the procedure, and the hospital finally reversed itself saying they had "new information" from Miller's doctor that would allow them to perform the surgery.

The only exception, they say, is for "the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology," which ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill says is too vague.

Under California law, it is permissible for private hospitals that receive public funds to refuse to perform abortions, but it does not allow them to refuse other reproductive care, including sterilization.

ACLU attorneys for two more women who have been denied the procedure — one of whom suffered severe pre-eclampsia after she last gave birth by emergency C-section 18 months ago, and who wants her tubes tied following her next birth, due in March — along with the firm Covington & Burling and Physicians for Reproductive Health, issued a letter to the hospital on December 2 stating, "California law ... does not permit hospitals open to the general public and supported by public funds to deny patients medically indicated pregnancy-related care."

Says Gill, "There is a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. Religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to hold religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care."

Unless the hospital responds and reverses itself again in the case of these two women, a lawsuit will be filed soon.