News Religion

Another Hospital, Merging With A Catholic One, May Give Up Reproductive Care

Robin Marty

Yet another hospital may give up emergency contraception, sterilizations and abortions that threaten a woman's health in order to partner up and save money.

Access for women to a full range of reproductive health services continue to shrink, as a proposed hospital merger will leave Waterbury, Connecticut without options not controlled by by the Catholic Hospital Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Via Women’s ENews:

Tubal ligation may not be available in the new replacement hospital in Waterbury, Conn.

Emergency abortion and contraception could also be dropped.

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The hospital merger still faces review by the state’s attorney general and commissioner of public health and a public hearing in early fall.

But if it goes through the city of about 110,000, will see its two existing hospitals–the non-profit Waterbury Hospital and the Catholic for-profit Saint Mary’s Hospital–become one.

Under an existing agreement, the new hospital–which would be only 10-percent Catholic owned–would adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Services, rules set by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, based in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the problem is that Saint Mary’s will not allow the new, combined hospital to consider any workarounds for providing full-spectrum reproductive health services, yet is asking the state to partially fund the new replacement hospital.

Opponents note that denying women who want it the option of having a tubal ligation post-partum means they will be forced to go to another city to give birth.

News Health Systems

41,000 Doctors to Join Lawsuit Against Catholic Hospital Over Denial of Care

Nicole Knight Shine

Religious directives, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, forbid doctors at Catholic facilities from providing birth control and performing common reproductive health procedures.

California’s largest medical association will join a lawsuit against the state’s largest hospital system for using religious directives to deny basic reproductive health care to patients.

The 41,000-member California Medical Association (CMA) filed a motion Wednesday in state Superior Court to join an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Catholic hospital chain Dignity Health, the fifth largest health-care system in the country.

The ACLU lawsuit stems from the case of a Dignity Health patient who was denied a tubal ligation. The patient’s physician agreed to perform the procedure during her cesarean section, but the hospital refused the doctor’s request, citing religious directives written by Catholic bishops that classify sterilization as “intrinsically evil.”

The ACLU of Northern California and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP in December filed the lawsuit on behalf of the patient, Rebecca Chamorro, and Physicians for Reproductive Health.

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The plaintiffs argue that forcing doctors to deny basic health care on the basis of religious objections creates a conflict between the medical well-being of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. They also contend that withholding medical care for reasons unrelated to medicine is illegal in California.

A court hearing on CMA’s motion is set for May 25 in San Francisco.

Dignity Health operates 29 hospitals across California. Nationally, ten of the 25 largest hospital systems are Catholic sponsored, according to a statement released by the ACLU. One in nine hospital beds is in a Catholic facility.

Patient health is jeopardized when religious directives at these facilities trump medical judgment, advocates argue.

“The religious directives are bad for both patients and doctors and present a real threat to the medical judgment of these doctors,” Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement.

Religious directives, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, forbid doctors at Catholic facilities from providing birth control and performing common reproductive health procedures like tubal ligation, sterilization, and abortion, even when the patient’s health is at risk.

The CMA intends to join the lawsuit because of the larger issues of patient safety represented in Chamorro’s case.

“Patients and their physicians, not hospital administrators following religious or any other non-medical directives, should be the primary decision-makers in each and every case to ensure each patients’ health care needs are met and the most appropriate, highest quality care is being provided,” Dr. Ruth Haskins, president-elect of the California Medical Association, said in a statement.

News Religion

Hospital Illegally Refused Sterilization Procedure, Pro-Choice Group Charges

Jason Salzman

The Center for Reproductive Rights, in a March 4 letter sent to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center on behalf of the patient, Jennifer Versailles, stated that the Catholic hospital's denial of the tubal ligation procedure violates state and federal laws mandating pregnancy related care.

A Catholic hospital in Colorado’s central mountains has refused the request of a staff doctor to perform a tubal ligation, a sterilization procedure, after a cesarean section that took place on Tuesday.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), in a March 4 letter sent to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center on behalf of the patient, Jennifer Versailles, stated that the Catholic hospital’s denial of the tubal ligation procedure violates state and federal laws mandating pregnancy related care.

It also constitutes sex discrimination, the letter charged.

James Corbett, Centura Health’s senior vice president for community health and values integration, did not address Versailles’ case when asked for comment, but he alluded to the hospital’s faith-based directives.

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“We cannot discuss specifics about a patient due to federal patient privacy laws,” Corbett wrote in a statement to Rewire. “St. Anthony Summit Medical Center is among the Centura Health hospitals which adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs).”

It is CRR’s “understanding” that St. Anthony’s refusal to perform the procedure is based on the ERD directives, which are promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to the letter from CRR, a national reproductive freedom organization.

The ERD directives state that sterility procedures on men or women are “not permitted in a Catholic health care institution,” unless treatment of an illness would dictate otherwise and alternative remedies are not available.

“We uphold our faith-based mission and strongly respect the patient-physician relationship,” Corbett wrote in his statement.

Autumn Katz, CRR senior staff attorney, told Rewire that this case proves this wrong.

“They say that they value a doctor-patient relationship, but policy suggests otherwise,” Katz said. “This is absolutely interference in a very disturbing way in the doctor-patient relationship, because this is the care that Jennifer’s doctor and she have decided is best for her health. The hospital for other reasons is denying her ability to access that care.”

Corbett wrote that the hospital facilitates the doctor-patient relationship by encouraging alternatives.

“In instances where a patient cannot obtain a requested elective procedure at a Centura Health hospital under Catholic sponsorship, we encourage the patient and physician to work together for a solution,” Corbett wrote.

Asked to explain why Versailles didn’t have the tubal-ligation procedure at a different hospital, Katz said, “My understanding is [Versailles] felt that the safest course for her was to do it at this hospital. That’s the hospital where her doctor practices and where she’s delivered her prior two children. She was not willing at the last minute to find a new doctor and travel, under what could be precarious conditions, to a different hospital where she could have had the tubal procedure.”

“Ms. Versailles, in consultation with her doctor, Dr. Andrew Catron, has decided that immediate postpartum tubal ligation is in her best medical interest, given her age and prior medical history,” the CRR letter states. “Ms. Versailles has two young children—ages two and five, both delivered by C-section—and she and her husband do not wish to have more children.”

The letter points to an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ recommendation that postpartum tubal ligation should be considered an “urgent surgical procedure” because it reduces medical risks and obviates the need for an additional surgery with anesthesia.

St. Anthony Medical Center, located in Frisco, Colorado, is a member of the Centura Health hospital chain, formed by a 1996 merger of Adventist Health System and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) hospitals.

It describes itself on its website as a “faith-based, nonprofit health care network designed to manage and strengthen their hospitals and services.”

“We extend the healing ministry of Christ by caring for those who are ill and by nurturing the health of the people in our communities,” the website states.

The CHI network has been criticized for trying to dictate medical treatment in accordance with the religious guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

After Catron requested permission to perform the tubal ligation in December, according to CRR’s letter, the Rev. Godwin Nnamezie of St. Anthony’s Ethics Committee wrote Catron an email stating, “Honestly, you know that we cannot do direct sterilization at this Facility. Procedures that induce sterility are only allowed when it is to cure or alleviate any serious illness of the patient.”

Katz said her organization hasn’t decided how it will respond.

“We will evaluate all options,” Katz said. “We will talk to Jennifer in the next few weeks and see how she is feeling. I don’t expect this to be an isolated incident. And it’s a danger to many women. It has repercussions beyond this procedure, for a hospital to dictate medical care from religious directives rather than what’s the best medicine for patients.”