Catholic hospital systems grew more than 16 percent between 2001 and 2011, a trend that threatens women’s access to care, a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch claims.
The report, entitled “Miscarriage of Medicine,” says that because the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services governs care at these facilities, women’s reproductive health is at risk. The directives prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion care, even when a woman’s health or life is in danger.
There were 381 Catholic hospitals in the United States in 2011, a 16.1 percent increase since 2001, the report found. And, as the total number of hospitals shrank, Catholic facilities composed 10.1 percent of hospitals, compared to 8.2 percent a decade earlier.
MergerWatch is a group critical of religious interference in healthcare. The report comes weeks after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which argues that the bishops’ religious directives for hospitals result in negligent care for patients. That care is spotlighted even more so in rural areas, where a religiously affiliated hospital may be the only choice for a patient.
The Catholic Health Association of the United States has not responded directly to the report, but on Dec. 9 the group did issue a statement following a New York Times editorial about Catholic hospital care.
“Catholic hospitals in the United States have a stellar history of caring for mothers and infants,” the statement read. “Hundreds of thousands of patients have received extraordinary care—both in the joy of welcoming an infant or in the pain of losing one. …There is nothing in the Ethical and Religious Directives that prevents the provision of quality clinical care for mothers and infants in obstetrical emergencies. Their experience in hundreds of Catholic hospitals over centuries is outstanding testimony to that.”
Texas is experiencing some of its own issues, too.
As the University of Texas prepares to open its new Austin medical school in 2016, questions have popped up about the agreements between the university and the Catholic healthcare provider that will train its doctors.
At the new medical school, most of the faculty and new doctors it trains will be employees of Seton Healthcare Family and required to follow the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives the hospital system follows, including rules on birth control, abortion, and end-of-life care.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that how the objectives of both institutions will be met is under scrutiny. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to both in July saying their agreement was unconstitutional. Ian Smith, a lawyer with the Washington-based organization, said a government entity like the university “cannot legally bind itself to those religious rules.”
“If they are teaching in a medical school, they are a government actor,” Smith said. “Restricting their behavior and their presentation under the Ethical and Religious Directives is problematic.”
UT-Southwestern, the university’s medical school in Dallas, and the UT Medical Branch at Galveston already send students to train at Seton’s Austin hospital.
Read the full ACLU/Merger Watch report below: