The growth of Catholic hospitals affects reproductive health care

know about The growth of Catholic hospitals affects reproductive health care

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PUTNAM, Conn. (AP) — Even as many Republican-led states push for sweeping abortion bans, there’s a concurrent groundswell of concern in some Democratic-led states that options for reproductive health care are shrinking due to the expansion of Catholic hospital networks. .

These are states like Oregon, Washington, California, and Connecticut, where abortion will remain legal despite the recent US Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Concerns in these blue states relate to services such as contraception, sterilization, and certain procedures to handle pregnancy-related emergencies. These services are widely available in secular hospitals, but are generally prohibited, along with abortion, in Catholic facilities under guidelines set forth by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Different perspectives on these services can collide when a Catholic hospital system seeks to acquire or merge with a nonsectarian hospital, as is happening now in Connecticut. State officials are evaluating a bid by Catholic-run Covenant Health to merge with Day Kimball Healthcare, an independent hospital and financially struggling health care system based in the city of Putnam.

“We need to ensure that any new owner is able to provide a full range of care, including reproductive health care, family planning, gender-affirming care and end-of-life care,” the Connecticut attorney general said. , William Tong, Democrat.

Lois Utley, a specialist in tracking hospital mergers, said her organization, Community Catalyst, has identified more than 20 municipalities in blue or purple states where the only critical care hospitals are Catholic.

“We are definitely going backwards in terms of comprehensive reproductive health,” Utley said. “Many doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, ambulatory care centers are being taken over by Catholic systems, and patients seeking contraception will not be able to obtain it if their doctor is now part of that system.”

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According to the Catholic Health Association, there are 654 Catholic hospitals in the US, including 299 with obstetrical services. The CHA says that more than one in seven American hospital patients are cared for in a Catholic facility.

CHA President Sister Mary Haddad said the hospitals provide a wide range of prenatal, obstetric and postnatal services while attending close to 500,000 births a year.

“This commitment is rooted in our reverence for life, from conception to natural death,” Haddad said by email. “As a result, Catholic hospitals do not offer elective abortions.”

Protocols are different for extreme emergencies when the mother “suffers from an urgent, life-threatening condition during pregnancy,” Haddad said. “Catholic health doctors provide all medically indicated treatment, even if it poses a threat to the fetus.”

This approach is now reflected in several states that impose bans that allow abortions only to save the life of the mother. There is concern that physicians governed by such prohibitions, whether by state law or Catholic directive, may jeopardize a pregnant woman’s health by denying her treatment when she begins to show the deleterious effects of a pregnancy-related problem. pregnancy.

In California, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener is among those warily watching the proliferation of Catholic health care providers, who operate 52 hospitals in his state.

The hospitals provide “excellent care to many people, including low-income communities,” Wiener said. But “they absolutely deny people access to reproductive health care.”

“It is the bishop, not professional standards, that dictates who can receive what medical care,” Wiener said. “That is scary.”

Charles Camosy, a professor of medical humanities at Creighton University School of Medicine, says critics of the mergers fail to recognize an important benefit of expanding Catholic health care.

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“These mergers are taking place because Catholic institutions are willing to take on the really tough places where others have failed to make money,” he said. “We should focus on what these institutions are doing in a positive way: stepping into the gap where virtually no one else wants to go, especially in rural areas.”

That argument resonates with most of rural northeastern Connecticut, where Day Kimball serves a population of about 125,000.

Kyle Kramer, CEO of Day Kimball, said the 104-bed hospital has been looking for a financial partner for more than seven years and will soon face “very serious problems” if it is forced to go it alone.

Regarding the proposed merger, he said: “Change is always difficult.”

However, he said Day Kimball would remain committed to comprehensive care if the merger proceeds, seeking to educate patients about all options on issues such as contraception, miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

As for abortions, Kramer said that Day Kimball had never performed them for the sole purpose of terminating a pregnancy and would continue that policy if she associated with Covenant.

Despite such assurances, some residents worry that the region’s only hospital will become Catholic-owned. Some opponents of the merger protested outside the hospital last Monday.

Sue Grant Nash, a retired Day Kimball hospice social worker, described herself as religious but said people’s values ​​shouldn’t be imposed on others.

“Very important articles of faith that Catholics may have, and I fully respect them, should not affect the quality of health care that is available to the public,” he said.

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There have been related developments in other states.

–In Washington, Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall plans to reintroduce a bill that would empower the attorney general to block hospital mergers and acquisitions if they jeopardize “the continued existence of affordable and accessible health care, including of reproductive health”. Governor Jay Inslee says he supports such a measure.

The state has already passed a bill that prohibits religious hospitals in the state from prohibiting health care providers from providing medically necessary care to expedite miscarriages or terminate non-viable pregnancies, such as ectopic pregnancies. Under the new law, patients can sue a hospital if they are denied such care, and providers can also sue if they are penalized for providing such care.

–In Oregon, the state has new authority to prohibit religious hospitals from acquiring or merging with another health care entity if it means access to abortion and other reproductive services would be reduced. A law that took effect March 1 requires state approval for mergers and acquisitions of major health care entities.

The law also allows the state to consider end-of-life options allowed by hospitals looking to establish a footprint or expand in Oregon, which in 1994 became the first state to legalize medical aid in dying.


Crary reported from New York. Associated Press reporters Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, and Adam Beam in Sacramento, California, contributed.


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