The church also won't allow doctors to terminate ectopic pregnancies until a woman is in mortal danger. In these pregnancies, the embryo implants outside of the uterus, most often in a fallopian tube, where it grows and can rupture the tube, potentially causing fatal bleeding. The bishops consider ending these unviable pregnancies a "direct abortion" unless a woman's life is immediately at risk. A doctor quoted in a recent study commissioned by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) reported seeing several near-fatal tubal ruptures at her Catholic-affiliated hospital.
Despite the dangers such policies pose to patients, Catholic hospitals often do not explain them to patients, and hospitals have fought efforts to require disclosure. The NWLC has accused Catholic hospitals of ignoring "their legal obligations to disclose all treatment options" under Medicare and Medicaid. As a result, "women don't always know what has happened," says Kelli Garcia, senior counsel at the NWLC. "So if their tube ruptures, they don't necessarily know that they could have had different treatment—because what happens within the Catholic hospitals, not only are they not providing treatment, they also aren't providing information about the treatment." The conference of bishops and the Catholic Health Association, which represents more than 600 hospitals, did not respond to requests for comment.