New Report Documents Threat to Women’s Health Posed by Catholic Hospitals
A report released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union and the MergerWatch Project documents the rise in Catholic-sponsored or -affiliated hospitals and the negative impact of that rise on women’s access to reproductive health care.
The report, Miscarriage of Medicine: The Growth of Catholic Hospitals and the Threat to Reproductive Health Care, concludes that, by 2011, approximately one in nine acute-care beds in the United States was in a Catholic-sponsored or -affiliated hospital, and ten of the 25 largest hospital systems were Catholic-sponsored. That’s an increase of 16 percent in the number of Catholic acute-care hospitals between 2001 and 2011. In contrast, the report found that the number of public and nonprofit hospitals in the country overall declined. Only one other area—for-profit hospitals—experienced market growth during this time.
According to the report, the increase in Catholic-owned or -sponsored hospitals does not just represent a consolidation of the hospital marketplace, it threatens women’s access to reproductive health care. That’s because Catholic-owned and -sponsored hospitals abide by the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The directives govern care at these facilities and prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion care, even when a woman’s health or life is in danger. The directives often also restrict the ability of hospital staff to provide patients with full information and referrals for care that conflict with religious teachings.
“As our report shows, even as Catholic hospitals open their doors to people of all faiths and accept billions of taxpayer dollars, when it comes to reproductive health care, these facilities can place religious doctrine above patient health care needs,” Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director and a co-author of the report, said in a statement. “Medical standards, not religious doctrine, should guide medical care.”