Catholic Hospitals Restrict Women’s Health Services

In an alarming trend that is increasing each year, secular hospitals are merging with Catholic hospitals and cutting off all reproductive health services.

The mergers, which are often done to keep financially-struggling hospitals open, are becoming more and more common. For example, in New York City, a Catholic health maintenance organization purchased a statewide Medicaid-only HMO. Despite the fact that their clientele is mostly young women in poverty, the combined organization will no longer provide AIDS prevention counseling, birth control, abortions or sterilizations, nor even provide referrals for these services.

“It’s health care being ruled by something other than what’s best for the patient,” said Dr. Dean Bloch, an ob/gyn at Northern Dutchess Hospital in upstate New York. Northern Dutchess and Kingston Medical Center are merged with a Roman Catholic hospital, which dictated that they stop offering services such as contraceptive counseling, abortions and sterilizations.

In communities where mergers are being discussed, public outcry over the suspension of reproductive services that the Catholic hospital will require can sometimes prevent the mergers. A community activist against a merger in Dutchess County said “We’re not against an affiliation. We know hospitals are facing tough times. But there are many models where the nonsectarian hospital doesn’t have to follow the dictates of the church. We want them to find a way to do both. We don’t want services to be lost.”

Even some church leaders do not agree with Catholic hospitals forcing secular hospitals to follow Catholic doctrine. “There are many members of the clergy, even some who are opposed to abortion, who are very concerned that the ethical and religious directives of one church are being imposed on people of other religions,” said Rev. Tom Davis of the United Church of Christ. “These mergers are of grave concern because even hospitals that do not agree to become Catholic hospitals agree in these deals to abide by Catholic rules.”

JoAnn Smith, executive director of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, said “This is not a classic pro-life, pro-choice abortion debate. We’re talking about everyday reproductive care, like contraception. We’re talking about adequate HIV and AIDS counseling. We’re talking about the morning-after pill for rape victims. Deals like these undermine the basic availability of quality, convenient health care for women.”


New York Times, Catholics for a Free Choice - October 21, 1997

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