When is a fetus-person not a fetus-person? When it’s a lawsuit.

If a woman voluntarily gets an abortion, it’s murder, the Catholic church says. Because a fetus is an unborn person. If a woman uses hormonal birth control that might endanger a zygote, it’s murder, the Catholic church says. Because a zygote is an unimplanted person. If a slack-ass obstetrician can’t answer his damn pages and a woman and two potentially viable fetuses die, it’s a crying shame, says Catholic Health Initiatives, but there’s not much that can be done about it because fetuses aren’t people.

Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.

Stodghill’s husband, Jeremy, has filed a wrongful-death suit against Catholic Health Initiatives, which runs St. Thomas More, with an expert witness testifying that while Staples probably wouldn’t have been able to save Lori, he might have been able to save the twins, either by actually showing up or by directing the ER staff in performing an emergency C-section.

Catholic Health Initiatives — which adheres to the church’s Ethical and Religious Directives, committing to “witness to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death'” — has responded that the short length of the time between conception and death for Lori Stodghill’s twins meant that they didn’t actually qualify as “people,” and thus Jeremy Stodghill’s suit is invalid under Colorado law.

Says attorney Jason Langley in a defense brief,

[T]he 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.”

Which would have been “unborn persons” under the laws proposed by the church over the past decades, but aren’t now, because they threaten Catholic Health’s $15 billion in assets.

If I don’t hear about pro-life protesters marching their bullhorns and their misleading fetus posters around the Catholic Health offices in Denver, I might start to believe they don’t actually care about women or the unborn. After all, say the Religious Directives of the Catholic Church, “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn and the care of women and their children during and after pregnancy.” It doesn’t go on to say, “unless there’s a shit-ton of money at stake” — I know, I looked. There’s just more stuff about providing adequate health care to mothers and their children before and after birth and whatever. So step up, Church — I mean, you’ve already clearly established that women aren’t people, but are fetuses people or not?

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50 Responses to When is a fetus-person not a fetus-person? When it’s a lawsuit.

  1. tigtog says:

    That much cognitive dissonance can’t be good for them.

  2. (BFing)Sarah says:

    Wow. WOW. I shouldn’t be shocked, but that is really shocking. Yup. Its a fetus, not a person. I mean, unless its a egg that may or may not be fertilized that is supposedly being kept from implanting on the wall of the uterus by “evil birth control” — now THAT is definitely a human being. Of course! Now I see how it is! The Almighty Catholic Church decides if something or someone is alive based solely on its own discretion, without any regards to logic. Why am I not surprised?

    • Datdamwuf says:

      And these be the same Catholic hospitals that demanded they be EXEMPT from providing birth control coverage to their employees because of their beliefs.

  3. Lauren says:

    What? The Catholic Church actively practices hypocrisy? What’s next? Throwing nuns under the bus for helping the poor while shielding sexual predators in the priesthood? Blasphemy, I say!

  4. pheenobarbidoll says:


    And now they’re on record admitting it.

  5. Karak says:

    I like how seven months is “close” to conception. Seven months is a viable fetus, seven months is how old my cousin and my niece were when their mothers were induced. Seven months is where almost all abortions are banned except for nonviable fetuses, because it is so damn disturbingly grey.

    Unless you kill a woman and her wanted twin fetuses. Then, shit, I guess it’s all clear.

    • tigtog says:

      My mother was delivered surgically at only about six months gestation when her mother was discovered to have an abdominal tumour during the pregnancy. This was back in the 1930s, and Mum had to be flown from rural western NSW to the dedicated children’s hospital in Sydney for specialist neonatal care while her mother underwent further treatment for her (my grandmother’s) cancer at home. For the flight (several hours duration back then) they wrapped my mum up in loads of blankets and put her in a laundry hamper on top of bricks that had been heated in an oven and wrapped in flannel. My grandmother’s sister lived in Sydney and kept an eye on her in the hospital until she was discharged as ready to go back home to the bush.

      My mum is nearly 80 now, and she’s had some geriatric health problems over the last few years, but she’s had an active life of very good health up until then, and she’s still coping pretty well now.

      Even without the advances in neonatal care over the last 7+ decades since the birth of my mum, it’s highly probable that these kids could have had many decades of meaningful life ahead of them.

      • EG says:

        To be fair, it’s not this cut and dried. Close friends of mine had a baby at one day before 6 months in a major metropolitan area of a first world country only a few years ago and it was a very long time indeed before we were sure she was going to make it. The odds were against her. Every case is different.

  6. PrettyAmiable says:

    On the bright side, I’m glad the law stood that the twins weren’t people. I think what her husband went through was shitty, and I’m not sure how I’d want him to win something against the shitty hospital, but I’m 100% glad they didn’t settle that a fetus was a person at 7 months.

    • moviemaedchen says:

      Yeah, I’m having the same reaction. The *hypocrisy* of the hospital is rather stunning, but in terms of the actual laws at issue? I am very glad they ruled as they did.

    • Amy J says:

      I feel the same way. It is definitely a catch 22 scenario.

      It seems to be there will be fallout, the masses will be angry and the law will be overturned. . . then abortion will be outlawed completely and the right wing fanatics will have what they always wanted .

  7. shfree says:

    This ruling should be printed out by every women who might ever need that hospital’s services for anything regarding their reproductive health. Just so they can have it with them should they find themselves at the hospital to slap whoever is telling them “No, life begins at conception.” with it as a reminder.

    • tigtog says:

      What “ruling”? There is no ruling yet, there’s just a defense argument.

      Defense arguments don’t set precedents for subsequent cases, sadly. Only rulings from the bench do that.

      It’s still very telling, but it’s not yet setting a legal precedent.

      • shfree says:

        Well, damn. Then maybe they could throw that defense argument at the hospital then.

      • tigtog says:

        Apologies, I was too sweeping: there have been some lower court rulings on this case, but the avenues for appealing it in higher courts have not yet been exhausted.

        My understanding is that anybody who tried to argue precedent based on a lower court ruling that was later overturned by a higher court would be metaphorically sharply rapped over the knuckles for attempting to do so.

  8. Foxy says:

    Catholic church is second most evil religion according to dawkins.I always wondered why isnt it first.

  9. gratuitous_violet says:

    My (Catholic) aunt just posted an article about this on Facebook…as an example of how the poor religious institutions are morally hamstrung by the US’s lack of a fetal personhood amendment.

    There is not enough WTF sometimes.

  10. Foxy says:

    It is unfortunate that catholicism is spreading rapidly in developing countries.

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  12. Angie unduplicated says:

    Same Catholic logic that claims priests aren’t committing adultery or fornication if they molest little boys. Memorial Hospital of Chattanooga, run by the Sisters of Nazareth, will not deliver babies, and takes fewer charity patients than even the for-profit hospitals, despite its location in a low-income area.

    Take it from a onetime medical answering service operator: find out which doctors answer pages and which ones don’t, before you sign on with any MD. You’ll have to catch the switchboard op outside the office to do this. This can make the diff between a good life and death or lifetime disability.

  13. Lolagirl says:

    Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page

    At the very least, the standard of care requires an on-call doc to answer a page from their hospital. That this OB did not do so and a patient awaiting OB services at the hospital died is a slam dunk from a malpractice perspective. The job of the hospital’s legal defense team is to deny it has any legal liability and then try and hang blame and thus legal responsibility onto the on-call OB. I’m not surprised that they are going with the fetus as not a legal person defense. Even though it’s inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, it’s still a legal defense and they are entitled to make it.

    The bigger picture of this story as I see it is that it illustrates both the perilousness of pregnancy from a medical standpoint as well as how so many pregnant patients don’t get the level of care they should be getting in U.S. hospitals these days. It’s outrageous that hospitals still take supposedly cost saving measures like not having doctors on the premises at all times and instead permit them to take calls while as much as 20 miles away from the hospital. And then they act all surprised when it bites them on the ass and they end up on the hook for huge judgments when patients end up dead because there was no doctor there to save them when they arrive at the hospital for treatment.

  14. TomSims says:

    The Roman Catholic Church is a hate group. The fearless leader, The Pope/Panzer Pope, is a graduate of the Hitler Youth.

    • karak says:

      Many youths at that point in time were members of the Hitler Youth. That is not a smoking gun.

      His faith’s overall asshat stances and his own statements are what condemn him as an asshat, not a semi-sinister organization he joined at a child on the eve of war.

  15. rjwalker says:

    As much as I’d like to believe that this is rank hypocrisy – the story is unclear whether the lawyer making that argument is council for the Catholic Hospital or for the doctor.

    Thus I cannot conclude that the church is being hypocritical.

    The story reports that “The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives….”

    And it reports that “Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense…”

    Not it does not say he represents “the lead defendant.” It just is not clear, who Langley represents.

    In my experience, this is the sort of nuance many reporters miss.

    I searched the Colorado case reports and dockets, but could not find the information showing who he represent

    If anyone has definitive information, I’d like to see it.

  16. Odin says:

    \begin{patronizing}But Jill! You are completely ignoring how the Catholic Church uses intent and action to determine morality.

    For example: Using HBC or condoms as contraception is a mortal sin, because it is an action taken with the intent to prevent conception and defy the Church. Even though these methods statistically result in fewer blastocyst deaths, what matters is that an action was taken with an intent, and so any blastocysts that die as a result are ensoulled people you are murdering.

    Using NFP as contraception is not a mortal sin. This is because even though it causes more blastocyst deaths, it is not an action because it’s about refraining from getting it on (the fact that doing it well requires a lot of work doesn’t matter). Any blastocysts that die as a result don’t matter and probably don’t have souls either, because it’s a non-action, therefore it can’t have intent behind it. Also it is not done with the intent to defy the Church, and so it’s all okay.

    Having/performing an abortion is a mortal sin, because there it’s an action taken with the intent to defy the Church and deliberately terminate a pregnancy. This is why some Catholic hospitals prohibit abortions even in the case when the embryo/fetus is already dead: intent is fucking magic and will actually resurrect dead embryos to ensure that you are committing murder.

    In the case of the lawsuit, the hospital took no action, so there can be no intent, so the fetuses didn’t have souls, and it’s okay they died. Simple, really!

  17. Julian says:

    So much hypocrisy here its disturbing

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