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Louisville Archbishop Firm on Catholic Directives in Proposed Hospital Merger

Louisville Archbishop Firm on Catholic Directives in Proposed Hospital Merger

August 9, 2011 — The Louisville Archbishop on Thursday said that he would only approve a merged hospital system under Roman Catholic ownership if all participating hospitals agree to follow the Church's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Service, which forbid artificial contraception and abortion, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

Discussing an impending merger between University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's HealthCare, and St. Joseph Health System -- which is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives -- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said, "If something calls itself a Catholic ministry, it is the responsibility of the bishop to ensure as best we can that it is indeed an accurate title." Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and Bishop Ronald Gainer also would need to approve the merger (Smith, Louisville Courier-Journal, 8/5).

Denver-based CHI would own 70% of the combined operations. Officials at the hospitals said that a full range of reproductive procedures will continue, but they have not yet specified how they will comply with the Catholic directives (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/28). Critics of the proposed merger have raised concerns that access to health care could be restricted, noting that University Hospital is a central component of the city's public health care network, particularly for poor and low-income patients. Specific areas of concern include access to end-of-life care, emergency abortion procedures and tubal ligations.

Edward Halperin, dean of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, said the hospital will continue to "serve the citizens from whom our support derives. ... Elective abortion, medically indicated abortion if the mother's health is in danger and tubal ligation will continue to be available from my faculty." He added that physicians who work with Catholic-affiliated hospitals in other cities are able to provide a full range of reproductive health services. "They do so by performing some procedures in Catholic hospitals and some in non-Catholic hospitals, the doctors' offices or university-owned buildings," he said.

An interim legislative joint committee will hold an Aug. 17 hearing on the proposed merger. State Rep. Tom Burch (D), who co-chairs the committee, opposes the merger. "As a conscientious Catholic, I have an obligation to my constituents and to the people of Kentucky (to see that) that they do not fall under dictates that they do not believe in" (Louisville Courier-Journal, 8/5).