October 23, 2013 — Widespread mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals have allowed the churches to restrict patients' access to abortion, contraception and other reproductive health care, goals that they largely have not been able to achieve through the political process, Mother Jones reports.
According to MergerWatch, the number of U.S. hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church increased by 16% from 2001 to 2011. By contrast, the number of public hospitals and secular, not-for-profit hospitals declined by 31% and 12%, respectively. In 2012, Catholic hospitals and health care systems were involved in 24 mergers and acquisitions, according to the research firm Irving Levin Associates.
Nationwide, 10 of the 25 largest not-for-profit hospital systems are affiliated with the Catholic Church, and one in every six patients receives care from a Catholic hospital, Mother Jones reports. In at least eight states, more than 30% of hospital admissions are at Catholic facilities.
How Catholic Health Care Directives Restrict Care
In addition to a ban on abortion services, Catholic hospitals also prohibit doctors from prescribing contraceptives -- and sometimes even counseling patients about them -- and their pharmacies do not carry birth control.
Although some Catholic hospitals will provide emergency contraception to rape survivors, many are reluctant to do so. Catholic hospitals also prohibit tubal ligations and vasectomies, extend end-of-life care beyond patients' wishes, and are allowed under laws in several states to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
In addition, a 2012 study conducted by Lori Freedman, an assistant professor of obstetrics at the University of California-San Diego, found that Catholic hospitals often deviate from the accepted standard of care for miscarriages, compared with secular institutions. Freedman said that one doctor told her that they "often tell patients that we can't do anything in the hospital but watch you get infected."
Further, Catholic hospitals prohibit the termination of ectopic pregnancies unless the woman's life is in danger, as well as any infertility treatment that "separates procreation from the marital act," including in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination or the use of donor eggs or sperm.
Hospitals that fail to abide by the standards are usually stripped of their Catholic standing. For example, St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix lost its Catholic affiliation when its officials refused to sign an agreement to not provide EC, which the hospital said violated federal law.
Catholic Hospitals Often Fail To Disclose Policies to Patients
According to Mother Jones, Catholic hospitals often fail to explain their policies to patients, despite efforts by secular hospitals to require such disclosure. The National Women's Law Center has accused Catholic hospitals of ignoring "their legal obligations to disclose all treatment options" under Medicare and Medicaid.
NWLC Senior Counsel Kelli Garcia said that as a result, "women don't always know what has happened" because "not only are [the Catholic hospitals] not providing treatment, they also aren't providing information about the treatment" (Mencimer, Mother Jones, November/December 2013).