HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Commentary on Means v. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Maya Manian (UCSF), Commentary on Means v. United States Conference of Catholic BishopsFeminist Judgments: Rewitten Health Law Opinions Seema Mohapatra and Lindsay F. Wiley, eds., Cambridge University Press 2021

This chapter of FEMINIST JUDGMENTS: REWRITTEN HEALTH LAW OPINIONS (Seema Mohapatra and Lindsay F. Wiley, eds., forthcoming 2021) provides commentary on Leslie Griffin’s rewritten majority opinion in Means v. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 836 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2016). This commentary chapter complements the rewritten opinion, providing background material, analysis of the feminist judgment, and reflections on the implications of the feminist judgment for health law. Tamesha Means was eighteen weeks pregnant when she rushed to her local hospital suffering from a miscarriage. Similar to many women living outside of major metropolitan areas, the only hospital within a reasonable distance of Means’ residence was a Catholic-owned hospital which Means alleged mistreated her. Despite evidence that Means endured mistreatment as a result of Catholic entities’ health care directives, federal courts dismissed Means’ lawsuit against the religious entities. Leslie Griffin’s rewritten opinion brings a feminist perspective to bear on the broader problem of increasingly widespread assertions that objections based on “conscience” entitle health care providers to depart from appropriate standards of medical care and impose harms on vulnerable third parties. The feminist revision of Means not only exposes the inequitable impact on patient well-being of sectarian institutions’ medical care restrictions, but also insists that the law more broadly must safeguard the health of patients. While religious freedom remains an important principle, Griffin’s feminist judgment underscores that in any health care setting, freedom of conscience does not justify exemptions from legal and ethical standards of medical care that would inflict harm on unwitting patients.

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