Halting Second Trimester Abortions in Catholic Hospitals?

Amie Newman

Whose rights are being protected when Catholic hospitals halt second trimester abortions for women who come in with anti-choice activists seeking care?

Catholic hospitals which have not been stripped of their Catholic Church affiliation already, as was the case recently with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix when it saved the life of a mother of four by providing an emergency abortion, are barred form performing abortion care for women. Based on our conscience laws, Catholic facilities can legally opt out of providing certain types of care to patients predicated on the idea that these types of services contradict the stance of the Catholic Church against abortion and contraception. But what about stopping an abortion once it’s started? One Catholic hospital in Chicago is doing so, all in service to what they say is their mandate to “protect life.”

Resurrection Hospital has instituted a policy to deal with women who come to the hospital seeking to halt a second trimester abortion, given that these abortions take two steps and a few days to complete. The hospital is doing so “in partnership” not with health providers or public health advocates. They have bonded with pro-life activists with a goal to stop all legal abortion.

According to the Chicago Tribune,

Working with two anti-abortion groups, Resurrection Medical Center, the largest hospital of one of Chicago’s largest Catholic health care systems, has put in place a practice that when a woman arrives in the emergency room with an activist seeking to stop a second-trimester abortion, she should be treated immediately. Since October, four women have arrived at the hospital seeking to halt their abortions, and three of them had their abortions stopped.

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Women deserve access to care, of course, and have every right to waver one way or the other when it comes to decisions as important as whether or not to continue a pregnancy. What jumps out in this story, clearly, is the fact that women are being brought in by activists who are not concerned in the least with women’s well-being or with ensuring unbiased, non-judgemental care. These are hard-core pro-life activists with an agenda. And despite what those who are as extremely anti-choice as these activists call what they’re doing, they are not “counseling” women. They are persuading women to do what they tell them they should do.

The article mentions that the hospital has instituted a protocol for ensuring that women are not being coerced into making the decision to halt the abortion. And, in fact, one woman did decide to continue with the abortion after privately confiding in hospital personnel that she felt pushed by the anti-choice activist who accompanied her to the hospital.

However, it’s hardly comforting to think that a Catholic hospital which stands adamantly against abortion care and partners with the Pro-Life Action League will have adequate counseling procedures in place. How comfortable will a woman feel, ultimately, relaying to a representative of a facility that is institutionally against abortion care, once she’s already started an abortion and then changed her mind, that she prefers to continue the abortion? These hospital providers are in a position of authority in these scenarios. This is far from a neutral zone. In this scenario, a woman finds herself accompanied by an activist against abortion, meeting with health care providers who are against abortion.

A physician who provides abortions in the Chicago area explains in the article that women are counseled that they can change their mind mid-way through a procedure.

“Women requesting an abortion at Family Planning Associates Medical Group have the absolute right to change their mind at any time regarding their decision to complete the abortion procedure,” said Dr. Steve Lichtenberg, medical director of Family Planning Associates on Elston Avenue near Cicero Avenue. “We have staff on call 24 hours a day, and are prepared to remove laminaria at our facility day or night, in the event that a patient reverses her decision to complete the abortion procedure.”

Catholic hospitals are hospitals that leverage the law to opt-out of providing abortion care, contraception and other reproductive health care – even in life-threatening circumstances for the woman; they are part of the Catholic Church which shames women for certain choices about their own bodies and health; and the Church sets up barriers to women’s decision-making believing instead that there are consequences, for women, to equity and freedom.

The article describes, perhaps inadvertently, a case where a woman was approached by an anti-choice activist outside the Family Planning Associates building and the activist “convinced a woman…that her abortion could be stopped.” Convincing a woman and allowing a woman to make her own decision on the basis of nonbiased, accurate information are not the same thing.

And Catholic Hospitals operate approximately 15 percent of all hospital beds in this country and though federal law says regardless of procedure needed, all hospitals need to provide life-saving care, that’s not nearly always the case. It is still the case, as is the official position of Catholic hospitals, that the rights of providers come before the rights of patients in some situations. It’s hard to tell whose rights take precedence in this scenario.

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