May 7, 2013 — An announcement by an Orange County, Calif., hospital that it will no longer permit elective abortions is drawing surprise and some criticism from ob-gyns who thought services would not change after the hospital merged with a Catholic health system, the Orange County Register reports.
Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian made the announcement in a letter to physicians last week -- two months after it finalized a partnership with the St. Joseph Health System, a Catholic hospital group. The merger makes Hoag and St. Joseph the provider of about one-third of health care services offered in Orange County, where the organizations control a network of six hospital facilities and their affiliated practices.
When officials from Hoag and St. Joseph formally announced the merger, they said that the hospitals would retain their respective religious traditions, including those regarding women's reproductive health care. However, Covenant Health Network -- the umbrella group created to oversee the combined hospital systems after the merger -- later endorsed St. Joseph's statement of common values for Hoag.
Hospital Defends Decision
Hoag CEO Robert Braithwaite said the end of abortion services "was not a religious decision" and emphasized that St. Joseph "did not try at any time to impose a Catholic belief or principal on the Hoag board's decision process." He said Hoag decided to end elective abortions because the hospital performs a low volume of them, fewer than 100 annually, adding that there is a correlation between low volume and low quality of care.
Allyson Brooks -- head of the Women's Health Institute at Hoag -- said abortions needed to save a woman's life would "absolutely" remain available at Hoag.
Several affiliated physicians expressed skepticism about the assertion the new directives were not related to the merger, according to the Register. Jeffrey Illeck, a Hoag-affiliated ob-gyn, said the decision is an example of "the Catholic agenda that is slowly permeating the whole country to take away a women's right to choose" (Wolfson, Orange County Register, 5/3).