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Lawyers for Catholic hospital argue that a fetus is not a person

By Ben Brumfield and Kyung Lah, CNN
January 27, 2013 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lori Stodghill and her unborn twins died in the emergency room
  • Colorado courts agreed with the Catholic organization's defense that the embryos weren't people
  • Husband Jeremy Stodghill lost the suit but is appealing to Colorado's Supreme Court
  • The hospital sued him for $118,000 in legal fees

Canon City, Colorado (CNN) -- Life begins at conception, according to the Catholic Church, but in a wrongful death suit in Colorado, a Catholic health care company has argued just the opposite.

A fetus is not legally a person until it is born, the hospital's lawyers have claimed in its defense. And now it may be up to the state's Supreme Court to decide.

Lori Stodghill was 28 weeks pregnant when she went to the emergency room of St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City vomiting and short of breath, according to a court document.

She went into cardiac arrest in the lobby.

"Lori looked up at me, and then her head went down on her chest," said her husband, Jeremy Stodghill.

Before and after Roe v. Wade

She died at age 31. Her unborn twin boys perished with her. That was New Year's Day 2006.

Stodghill, left behind to raise their then-2-year-old daughter alone, sued the hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives, for the wrongful deaths of all three.

After about two years of litigation, defense attorneys for the hospital and doctors entered an argument that shocked the widower.

They said that under state law, an embryo is not person until it is born alive, according to court documents. The Stodghills' twins were deceased when they were removed from their mother's lifeless body.

"I didn't even get to hold them," Jeremy Stodghill said. "I have an autopsy picture. That's all I've got."

The court agreed with the argument, and Stodghill lost the suit. The court also ruled against Stodghill in the case of his wife for other legal reasons.

The hospital and doctors then sued him for over $118,000 legal fees and attempted to garnish his wages, according to a legal document filed on his behalf.

The defendants offered to forget the fees if Stodghill dropped his appeal. He refused and filed for bankruptcy to avoid having to pay the claim, which he says he can't afford as he struggles to raise his now-9-year-old daughter, Libby.

Stodghill has petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear his case, and he'd like to hear from the Catholic Church.

Representatives of the Catholic bishops of Colorado declined to comment on the legal proceedings, but said they will review the litigation and Catholic Health Initiatives' practices "to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Catholic Health Initiatives would not speak to CNN on camera, but said in a statement, "In this case... as Catholic organizations, (we) are in union with the moral teachings of the Church."

Stodghill wears a tattoo on his chest with his unborn sons' footprints, their names and the words "our sons."

He wants the church and his state to see them the same way.

Survey: Few religious groups want Roe v. Wade overturned despite belief abortion morally wrong

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