State regulators won’t press abortion case against Catholic hospital in Durango

The Colorado Department of Health will not act on a complaint filed by a doctor against Catholic hospital administrators in Durango whom he said blocked him from speaking with patients about abortion as a treatment option, even in cases where the life of the mother was at risk.

The department’s decision against taking action was not based on the validity of the complaint, according to a letter issued this week.

“The clinic… is not licensed by the department and is not under its jurisdiction, therefore no deficient practice was cited,” said a letter written by the department’s Judy Hughes.

The complaint was filed by Dr. Michael Demos and taken up by the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Demos said the administration at Mercy Regional Medical Center forbid discussion of abortion on religious grounds.

In an email sent to the Independent last November, Mercy officials said the hospital takes “seriously the care we provide to our patients” and, as a faith-based hospital, “are committed to carrying out our mission and ministry in a manner consistent with our religious and ethical directives.”

But the ACLU told the health department that this case makes clear that Mercy’s religious directives violate state and federal laws. Colorado forbids hospitals from intervening in a doctor’s professional judgment.

“Until Dr. Demos hears differently from the hospital, he remains in an unacceptable bind where he must choose between obeying the directive that was conveyed to him by the administrators last year and his medical and ethical obligations to his patients,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU- Colorado legal director. “We believe that directive violates state and federal law and we encourage the hospital to clearly state that it has no plans to further interfere with its physicians’ practice of medicine.”

Care options for residents in Durango are limited. Mercy is the only hospital in the area.