Commentary Religion

Why I Refuse to Be Taken to a Catholic Hospital—And Why Other Women Should Too

Erin Matson

If you're pregnant and wind up in a Catholic hospital, you could find yourself in more trouble after you've seen a doctor than before you walked in the door.

Under no circumstances do I ever want to be brought to a Catholic hospital or medical facility. As a pregnant woman—and as a human being, period—I do not trust that my health needs will guide the care I am offered at such a facility. Furthermore, I urge other women to speak up, write an advance medical directive, and let their friends and family know that they do not consent to be taken for treatment at a Catholic hospital.

The reason I don’t want to be taken to a Catholic hospital isn’t because of abstract notions about morality, the separation of church and state, or when different faiths say life begins. Rather, I refuse because in Catholic hospitals patients may be refused medical treatment on the basis of church teachings. That’s a pretty big deal if an ambulance or well-meaning relative brings you to one while pregnant, after a rape, or any time you need urgent medical care.

Refusal to Perform Abortions Allows Women to Die

In October 2012, severe back pain brought Savita Halappanavar to a Catholic hospital in Galway, Ireland. When it was revealed that her 17-week pregnancy was unsustainable, doctors ignored her pleas and refused to perform a life-saving abortion, citing Catholic doctrine. Savita died. Her death has implications for all women, knowingly pregnant or not, who enter a Catholic hospital anywhere in the world.

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Here in the United States, Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated after authorizing a life-saving abortion in 2010 for a gravely ill woman at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

It is unreasonable to expect that every Catholic hospital in the country will have a dissenting nun willing to be excommunicated or a doctor willing to be fired to prevent women from being killed by “no abortion under any circumstances” rigidity. It seems it’s only a matter of time until the United States has its own Savita—a pregnant woman who dies needlessly in a Catholic hospital because the all-male Catholic hierarchy has decided barring all abortion, no exceptions, is the “pro-life” thing to do.

If Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) had gotten his way in 2011 and HR 358 had been signed into law, under federal law all hospitals would be allowed to refuse life-saving abortion care to patients; they also would be able to refuse arranging transport to another hospital that would provide such care. Pitts even had the nerve to name the bill the “Protect Life Act.”

It’s important to note that discrimination is dangerous and wrong, even when it doesn’t kill you. When we consider abortion only in life-and-death situations, we ignore the health and economic consequences women also face when they are denied constitutionally protected abortion care in the Catholic medical system.

Furthermore, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has claimed that abortion is, well, whatever they say it is. Scientific facts do not back up the bishops’ repeated assertion that emergency contraception is an “abortion-inducing drug”; in reality, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy before it occurs. When facts don’t matter, the next substance that the bishops deem an “abortion-inducing drug” could be anything—routine over-the-counter treatments, standard vaccinations—if the person controlling the medical care available to you is in a Catholic medical facility.

Scope of Problem Is Vast, Hits Rural Areas Hard

If you don’t want to go to a Catholic hospital, you don’t have to, right? You can just “choose” your way out of the problem? Wrong. Setting aside the obvious fact that many people are rushed to the nearest hospital in case of emergency, there are a few additional issues that make Catholic hospitals not so easy to avoid.

First, mergers can catch patients unaware. Facing financial constraints, secular hospitals in communities across the country have been pressured to consider mergers with faith-based institutions. When a secular hospital and a religiously affiliated hospital merge, one institution’s refusal beliefs can trump the other’s commitment to public health. In practice, this means that communities that have been counting on secular hospitals for years might not be aware that new, religious restrictions were wheeled in the door.

Second, there were a large number of Catholic hospitals even before the merger trend. In 1999, religiously affiliated hospitals operated nearly one in five acute hospital care beds in the country, according to a report from Merger Watch.

According to the same report, 48 of the 585 religiously affiliated hospitals studied were “recognized by the federal government as being the sole providers of hospital care in a geographic region.” So if you don’t live in a big city with lots of options, it may be geographically impossible to choose your way out of a Catholic hospital.

Wide Range of Reproductive Health-Care Services Are Restricted

“Unlike their secular counterparts, healthcare services available in Catholic institutions are restricted by guidelines that are separate from established medical norms,” according to a Catholics For Choice memo.

Specifically, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued directives that there be no access to abortion, no contraception, and no in-vitro fertilization in Catholic hospitals. There is a narrow exception for emergency contraception after rape if it can be proven that no pregnancy has occurred, but as we know, the bishops don’t use medical definitions when deciding what constitutes a pregnancy. Other directives bar treatment for ectopic pregnancy, an urgent and fatal condition, and forms of treatment developed from embryonic stem-cell research.

In short, if you’re pregnant and wind up in a Catholic hospital, you could find yourself in more trouble after you’ve seen a doctor than before you walked in the door.

Catholic Hospitals Discriminate, Take Federal Dollars

It is a national scandal that Catholic hospitals discriminate on the basis of sex yet are allowed to rake in federal dollars and receive tax breaks. As noted in both the Merger Watch report and the Catholics For Choice memo, Catholic-affiliated hospitals enjoy non-profit tax breaks and accept public funds, especially from Medicare and Medicaid.

So What Can We Do?

It’s important to raise awareness about Catholic hospitals. Let friends, family members, and employers know that you do not wish to be taken to a Catholic-affiliated hospital under any circumstances. Write or amend an advance medical directive. Urge other women you know to do the same.

If you wish to push further, there are many opportunities for leadership at the community level. Research the hospitals in your area. Do they have religious affiliation? Do they refuse to provide services? Share and publicize the information you learn. Furthermore, watch closely for hospital mergers in your area and work closely with your city council members during the approval process.

Finally, work to change public policy. It’s time to stop tolerating discrimination against patients seeking reproductive health care. It’s time to stop tolerating public dollars supporting these discriminating institutions. And it’s time to stop tolerating men in leadership positions making dangerous decisions for women.

No pregnant woman should die simply because she was taken to the wrong hospital.

Analysis Politics

Paul Ryan Uses Falsehoods Behind Texas HB 2 to Push Yet Another Abortion Restriction

Ally Boguhn

In a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Paul Ryan agreed with an audience member's baseless sentiment that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics" in its Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.

During a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) pushed falsehoods about the anti-abortion provisions at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt being necessary for patient health and safety. Ryan nonsensically then used the decision as a launch point to promote House Republicans’ Conscience Protection Act, which passed in the House Wednesday evening and supposedly shields those who object to abortion from discrimination. The only things Texas’ provisions and the legislation have in common, however, is that they’re all about blocking access to abortion care.

Town hall audience member and executive director of New Jersey Right to Life Marie Tasy claimed during the event Tuesday that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics,” in its landmark ruling against two provisions—the admitting privileges and surgical center requirements—of Texas’ HB 2.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said in response to Tasy’s remarks. “I agree with that.”

But the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

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Despite this, Ryan then used the falsehood at the center of HB 2 as a call to action for yet another anti-choice restriction: the Conscience Protection Act. After fielding the question from Tasy about how anti-choice issues could be advanced in Congress in the wake of the Court’s decision, Ryan pivoted to claim that the government is “forcing people to conduct [abortion] procedures”:

Actually, tomorrow we are bringing a bill that I’ve been working on called the Conscience Protection Act. I’m pro-life. I think you probably know that. And I would like to think we could at least get consensus in this country that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding abortions. That the government shouldn’t be forcing people to conduct procedures, especially health-care workers, against their own conscience.

Our First Amendment is the right of conscience, religious freedom. Yet our own government today, particularly in California, is violating that right and not allowing people to protect their conscience rights, whether they’re Catholic hospitals or doctors or nurses. Tomorrow we’re bringing the Conscience Protection Act to the floor and passing it. It’s Diane Black’s bill. And it is to give those citizens in America who want to protect their conscience rights their ability to defend those rights. That is one thing we’re doing tomorrow to protect the conscience, because I believe we need to cultivate a culture of life. And at the very least, stop the government from violating our conscience rights.

Ryan would go on to make similar remarks the next day while speaking on behalf of the bill on the House floor, though this time he added that the “bill does not ban or restrict abortion in any way …. All it does is protect a person’s conscience.” 

As Rewire‘s Christine Grimaldi previously reported, the Conscience Protection Act would codify and expand on the Weldon Amendment. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against any health care entity-including physicians, health-care professionals, hospitals, and insurance plans, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

The Weldon Amendment currently must be passed each year as part of annual appropriations bills.

Grimaldi noted that the act “would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care.”

Ryan proposed similar conscience protections as part of his recently released health-care plan, though, as Grimaldi wrote, “the Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.”

But those whom Ryan and his colleagues are claiming to defend already have protections that impede access to abortion care, according to critics of the measure.

Ryan, for example, suggested in both his CNN appearance and his House floor speech the next day that California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under “basic health services” violates “religious freedom.” But a June investigation by the HHS Office for Civil Rights into whether California’s requirement violated the Weldon Amendment rejected similar complaints by anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Let’s be very clear—right now, current law says that hospitals, insurers, and doctors may refuse to perform an abortion or provide coverage for abortion, which already greatly limits women’s access to legal procedures,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Wednesday, speaking after Ryan on the House floor during remarks before the Conscience Protection Act passed.

“More importantly, when a woman’s health is in danger, providers would not be required to act to protect the health of that mother. This bill would allow them to refuse to … facilitate or make arrangements for abortion if they have a moral objection to it,” continued Schakowsky. “They could also refuse to provide transportation to another hospital if a woman is in distress if that hospital provides abortions.”

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained in a statement following the passage of the legislation in the House that the measure is about blocking access to abortion. “The Conscience Protection Act is dangerous, discriminatory legislation designed to block women’s access to abortion care,” said Ness.

“For example, a hospital could rely on the Conscience Protection Act to turn away a woman in an emergency situation who needs an abortion or refuse to provide a woman information about her treatment options. This legislation is a license for providers to discriminate against women and undermine their access to essential, constitutionally protected health care,” Ness said.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Selects Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to Join His Ticket

Ally Boguhn

And in other news, Donald Trump suggested that he can relate to Black people who are discriminated against because the system has been rigged against him, too. But he stopped short of saying he understood the experiences of Black Americans.

Donald Trump announced this week that he had selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) to join him as his vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, and earlier in the week, the presumptive presidential nominee suggested to Fox News that he could relate to Black Americans because the “system is rigged” against him too.

Pence Selected to Join the GOP Ticket 

After weeks of speculation over who the presumptive nominee would chose as his vice presidential candidate, Trump announced Friday that he had chosen Pence.

“I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, adding that he will make the official announcement on Saturday during a news conference.

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The presumptive Republican nominee was originally slated to host the news conference Friday, but postponed in response to Thursday’s terrorist attack in Nice, France. As late as Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News that he had not made a final decision on who would join his ticket—even as news reports came in that he had already selected Pence for the position.

As Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson explained in a Thursday commentary, Pence “has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs.” Jacobson further explained: 

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a ‘religious freedom’ law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only ‘amended’ it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his ‘conservative values,’ rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

Trump Suggests He Can Relate to Black Americans Because “Even Against Me the System Is Rigged”

Trump suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he could relate to the discrimination Black Americans face since “the system [was] rigged” against him when he began his run for president.

When asked during a Tuesday appearance on The O’Reilly Factor what he would say to those “who believe that the system is biased against them” because they are Black, Trump leaped to highlight what he deemed to be discrimination he had faced. “I have been saying even against me the system is rigged. When I ran … for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system, and the system is rigged,” Trump responded.

“What I’m saying [is] they are not necessarily wrong,” Trump went on. “I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play,” he said, concluding that he could “relate it, really, very much to myself.”

When O’Reilly asked Trump to specify whether he truly understood the “experience” of Black Americans, Trump said that he couldn’t, necessarily. 

“I would like to say yes, but you really can’t unless you are African American,” said Trump. “I would like to say yes, however.”

Trump has consistently struggled to connect with Black voters during his 2016 presidential run. Despite claiming to have “a great relationship with the blacks,” the presumptive Republican nominee has come under intense scrutiny for using inflammatory rhetoric and initially failing to condemn white supremacists who offered him their support.

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Tuesday, Trump is polling at 0 percent among Black voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

What Else We’re Reading

Newt Gingrich, who was one of Trump’s finalists for the vice presidential spot, reacted to the terrorist attack in Nice, France, by calling for all those in the United States with a “Muslim background” to face a test to determine if they “believe in sharia” and should be deported.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton threw her support behind a public option for health insurance.

Bloomberg Politics’ Greg Stohr reports that election-related cases—including those involving voter-identification requirements and Ohio’s early-voting period—are moving toward the Supreme Court, where they are “risking deadlocks.”

According to a Reuters review of GOP-backed changes to North Carolina’s voting rules, “as many as 29,000 votes might not be counted in this year’s Nov. 8 presidential election if a federal appeals court upholds” a 2013 law that bans voters from casting ballots outside of their assigned precincts.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the election goals and strategies of anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List, explaining that the organization plans to work to ensure that policy goals such as a 20-week abortion ban and defunding Planned Parenthood “are the key issues that it will use to rally support for its congressional and White House candidates this fall, following recent setbacks in the courts.”

Multiple “dark money” nonprofits once connected to the Koch brothers’ network were fined by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week after hiding funding sources for 2010 political ads. They will now be required to “amend past FEC filings to disclose who provided their funding,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum and Ben Weyl explain how Trump’s budget would end up “making the deficit great again.”

“The 2016 Democratic platform has the strongest language on voting rights in the party’s history,” according to the Nation’s Ari Berman.