June 24, 2013 — An Orange County, Calif., hospital's decision to stop offering abortions after merging with a Catholic health system is under renewed scrutiny after records and interviews revealed the change might have been based on the merger, rather than on low demand for the procedure, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The California attorney general's office -- which approved the partnership between Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and St. Joseph Health System in February -- has launched an investigation to determine if Hoag accurately reported that the hospital did fewer than 100 elective abortions annually. The office also is examining whether the hospital is doing enough to ensure there are accessible alternatives for abortion care (Cowan/Gorman, Los Angeles Times, 6/20).
When Hoag made the announcement last month about ending abortion services, Hoag CEO Robert Braithwaite said the change "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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/7).
Documents Suggest Merger Required Ban
Richard Afable -- an executive at St. Joseph who runs the joint health network -- told the Times in an interview last week that St. Joseph told Hoag the abortion ban was "sacrosanct" and "required of ourselves and anyone we would work with."
According to the Times, documents and other interviews also demonstrate that Hoag administrators knew about the requirement in December. A consultant at that time wrote that while Hoag would not be subject to Catholic directives on reproductive health care, the hospital would be bound to St. Joseph's statement of common values, which prohibits elective abortions. The ban became a condition of partnership by February.
Planned Parenthood, Physicians Comment on Ban
Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties CEO Jon Dunn said the decision is part of a "troubling trend" of the Catholic Church using religion to restrict medical care. He added that PPOSBC plans to work with Hoag to ensure patients have abortion access.
Beverly Sansone -- an ob-gyn who treats patients at Hoag -- and seven other Hoag-affiliated physicians wrote a public letter stating that they are "shocked and dismayed" by the ban and that forcing patients to seek abortion care elsewhere is "bad medicine" (Los Angeles Times, 6/20).