News Religion

Catholic Hospitals Make Abortion The Only Thing They Won’t Allow

Robin Marty

When it comes to mergers with non-Catholic health systems, it appears abortion is the one rule they won't compromise on.

Residents have been in an uproar since Pennsylvania’s Abington Health announced it was merging with Holy Redeemer Health Systems. The new hospital, they said, would “fully comply with ethical and religious directives.”

In the face of criticism, however, they’ve “compromised,” and want to assure everyone that they simply won’t perform abortions.


In the statement issued Friday, Abington Health said it “will continue to provide contraceptive services and counseling, tubal ligations, and vasectomies.” Abington Reproductive Medicine, a prominent infertility practice affiliated with the hospital, will also continue as is.

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All of those services are forbidden under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ethical directives for Catholic health care facilities. In traditional mergers, the secular hospital agrees to abide by the Catholic rules.

[S]ome recent mergers around the country suggest dogma can take a backseat to the economic realities of new reimbursement methods, cost containment efforts, and health care reform.

MergerWatch, a New York City-based advocacy group that says it has helped to stop, undo or modify 59 mergers over 15 years, has followed several deals like Abington’s – in which the secular partner agreed to stop doing abortions but continued other “forbidden” medical services such as sterilizations.

When it comes to breaking their rules for sterlizations and IVF, Holy Redeemer is willing to be flexible. But terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons? That’s where they draw the line.

News Health Systems

Illinois Bill: Catholic Hospitals Must Inform Patients Where They Can Obtain Denied Care

Nicole Knight Shine

The legislation amends the state Health Care Right of Conscience Act to require religiously affiliated facilities to inform patients in writing about health-care providers "who they reasonably believe" offer procedures that the institutions will not perform.

Religiously affiliated hospitals in Illinois must advise patients where they can find treatments that the institutions won’t offer on religious grounds, under new legislation sitting on the governor’s desk.

The patient information measure, SB 1564, comes at a time when almost about 30 percent of hospital beds in the state—and one in six in the nation—are in Catholic institutions that bar certain reproductive health and end-of-life treatments, according to recent figures from the advocacy group MergerWatch.

The legislation amends the state Health Care Right of Conscience Act to require religiously affiliated facilities to inform patients in writing about health-care providers “who they reasonably believe” offer procedures that the institutions will not perform, or to refer or transfer patients to those alternate providers. Hospitals must do this in response to patient requests for such procedures. The legislation cleared the state house on a 61-54 vote and the senate on a 34-19 vote. Democrats control both chambers.

The office of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) did not respond to request for comment on whether he would sign the bill.

Catholic facilities often follow U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops religious directives  that generally bar treatments such as sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and abortion care. The federal Church Amendment and some state laws protect these faith-based objections.

Even so, growing concerns over facilities that deny treatment that patients want—and that doctors advise—has recently prompted lawmakers in Illinois, Michigan, and Washington state to advance patient information measures.

A Michigan lawsuit now on appeal alleges a Catholic facility caused unnecessary trauma by denying a patient treatment. In 2010, then-18-weeks pregnant Tamesha Means arrived at a Catholic hospital, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan, bleeding and miscarrying. On two occasions, the hospital turned away Means, as Rewire reported. It wasn’t until Means started delivering on her third hospital visit that she received treatment.

The Illinois legislation represents a compromise among the Illinois Catholic Health Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, and the Illinois affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representatives from the groups told Rewire.

Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU of Illinois’ Reproductive Rights Project, said in an online statement that the legislation “protects patients when health care providers exercise religious refusals.”

Research indicates that patients aren’t always aware that religiously affiliated facilities don’t provide a full spectrum of reproductive health services, according to a 2014 paper published in Contraception.

Patrick Cacchione, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Health Association, said the organization, which represents the state’s 43 Catholic hospitals, opposed an early version of the bill requiring religious health-care facilities to give patients a written list of known medical providers that perform the treatments that the religious institutions oppose.

Cacchione said such a direct referral would have made Catholic hospitals “complicit.”

“We will provide all the information you need, but we will not make a direct referral,” he told Rewire in a phone interview Monday. The new version of the legislation does not require hospitals to confirm that providers perform the treatments; the facilities must only have a “reasonable belief” that they do.

He said Illinois hospitals are already doing what the legislation now requires.

Approximately one in five doctors surveyed at religiously affiliated institutions “had experienced conflict with the institution over religiously based patient care policies,” according to the 2010 paper, “Religious Hospitals and Primary Care Physicians: Conflicts Over Policies for Patient Care,” published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

In an emailed statement, Dr. Thomas M. Anderson, a Chicago radiologist and president of the Illinois State Medical Society, told Rewire, “The Society strongly believes physicians should be able to exercise their right of conscience and changes made to SB 1564 protect that right.”

News Law and Policy

California Lawmakers Won’t Allow Insurers to Opt Out of Abortion Coverage

Nina Liss-Schultz

A California assembly committee last week killed a GOP bill that would have allowed insurance companies to exclude abortion coverage from plans for any reason and without penalty.

A California assembly committee last week killed a GOP bill that would have allowed insurance companies to exclude abortion coverage from plans for any reason and without penalty. The bill was introduced in February as a pushback against a recent state policy requiring abortion coverage to be included in private plans.

State officials in August sent a letter to six insurance companies saying that it is against state law for insurance companies to sell plans that don’t include abortion coverage. At least two of the insurance giants—Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente—had sold plans to Catholic universities in California that significantly limited coverage of abortion.

The letter from the Department of Managed Health Care, which approves all insurance plans in the state, called abortion “a basic health care service” and said that insurance plans can’t discriminate against patients’ reproductive choices.

“The California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy,” Michelle Rouillard, director of the DMHC, wrote in her letter to insurers. “Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”

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AB 1254, introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R), would essentially nullify the DMHC policy by allowing insurers to exclude abortion coverage from plans for whatever reason and without penalty. Religious groups are backing the bill, charging that they are being forced to pay for abortion, in violation of their freedom of conscience.

During an interview with Fox News, Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the right-wing group Alliance Defending Freedom, who spoke during a hearing for the bill, called DMHC’s decision “nonsense.” He said requiring abortion coverage in insurance plans constituted a “bureaucratic sneak attack on religious liberty from California.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom is one of several organizations that last fall filed complaints with the the United States Health and Human Services Department of Civil Rights, alleging that California is discriminating against them.

Health insurance coverage for abortion care has become an issue in a host of state legislatures this year. Texas Republicans this week banned all insurance coverage for abortion care in a party-line vote.