Hospital merger will limit reproductive care

Reproductive care influenced by religion

July 30, 2011 

By Tom Burch and Mary Lou Marzian

Representatives from Jewish Hospital, University Hospital and the University of Louisville have been reassuring patients that reproductive health services will not change after the merger with a Catholic medical institution, St. Mary's Healthcare. Their reassurances have not worked. Several hundred people have signed a statement opposing the move.

We think they have a right to be worried. St. Mary's is a division of Catholic Health Initiatives, which means the hospital will soon be playing by different rules. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services govern Catholic-owned or affiliated institutions, including hospitals, and they follow a different calculus for patients' treatment.

According to Michael Rowan, executive vice president of Catholic Health Initiatives, the merger "will mean greater access to care." In reality, the directives will assure women less access to reproductive health care.

Abortion will be prohibited, as well as contraception and medically indicated treatments for potentially dangerous ectopic pregnancies. Both men and women will be dismayed to see their advance medical directives are not respected in a Catholic hospital.

Yet an advertisement released by the heads of the three hospitals assured readers "the merger partners are committed to expanding, not limiting, services," including tubal ligations performed at the time of Caesarean sections. We applaud their intentions, but we fear they may be somewhat naive. Anyone who has been paying attention to similar mergers across the country has to ask, what will happen to the creative solutions for providing ERD-banned services when the local bishop doesn't like what he sees?

At St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Sister Margaret McBride lost her job for approving abortion care that saved a woman's life. Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted had her removed. Do we want local hospital workers to obey an authority that puts anything above the life of the patient?

Most Catholics would say no. Though the bishops often claim the directives represent the views of all Catholics, a poll found that 65 percent of American Catholic voters believe that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to refuse to provide procedures or medications based on religious beliefs.

This comes as no surprise when one considers that 98 percent of Catholic women have used a birth control method the bishops find objectionable. Catholics utilize family planning and abortion care at the same rate as do other American women. The bishops have simply been unable to convince the faithful to adopt their hard-line stance against comprehensive reproductive health care. Their new tactic is to enforce in hospitals what they couldn't do from the pulpit — on Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

We hope that it doesn't take a life-or-death situation before hospital administrators realize that business as usual and complying with the ERDs are mutually exclusive. Women should never have to question their doctor's allegiance, and providers should not have to worry that they will be dismissed for giving comprehensive care. As Catholic lawmakers, we second the apprehensions of both patients and doctors and look forward to the details of a plan that will keep a full range of reproductive health care for all citizens.

Rep. Thomas J. Burch and Rep. Mary Lou Marzian are Democrats from Louisville, and both are Catholics.

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