My latest at Al Jazeera America is about how Catholic health care services put women’s health at risk:
Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman, had a different, more terrifying experience. Her water broke at 18 weeks, too early for the fetus to be likely to survive. A friend drove her to the closest hospital, a Catholic facility where medical providers told Means the baby would probably not live, but they refused to terminate her pregnancy. She went back a second time and was sent home, despite being at risk of infection and in excruciating pain. The third time she went back, this time bleeding, in pain, running a fever and suffering from an infection from a miscarriage in progress, she was again directed to go home. She went into labor while filling out hospital discharge paperwork. Only then did hospital employees begin to attend to her. She delivered, and the very premature infant died shortly thereafter.
The ACLU is now suing on Means’ behalf. But most stories like hers are not told. And the smaller, non-life-threatening decisions — the refusals to provide contraception, in vitro fertilization or sterilization — fly even further below the radar, tinged with the humiliation of someone seeking medical care and receiving moral judgment.
Proponents of Catholic health care say that which services religious hospitals offer is a First Amendment issue and that the separation of church and state requires the government to remain hands off. Catholic hospitals provide necessary care to the sick and in need, through a well-funded religious institution with many devotees and volunteers who do excellent, important work.
But Catholic hospitals receive enormous amounts of state and federal funding, in the form of large tax exemptions, Medicare and Medicaid dollars and specific grants for certain types of care. In 2011, Catholic hospitals received $27 billion in public funding, not including tax breaks — nearly half their revenue. Catholic hospitals employ and serve populations that are not predominantly Catholic. One-fifth (PDF) of physicians at religious hospitals reported facing a “clinical ethical conflict” in which their medical judgment was at odds with the hospital’s religious policy. Because Catholic hospitals receive public funds and care for a diverse population, they should have a duty to serve the actual health needs of their patients and the ethical obligations of their staffs over church dogma.
Instead, they put the dogma first. As a result, rape victims are routinely refused emergency contraception in Catholic hospitals. Women with life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, which are easily ended by a shot of methotrexate or a minor surgery, often find an entire fallopian tube unnecessarily removed — decreasing the odds of future pregnancy — if they seek care at a Catholic facility. And, as Means discovered, even in life-threatening emergencies, Catholic hospitals regularly refuse to terminate pregnancies and may face penalties, including removal of church-affiliated status, if they do so to save the life of the mother. In one case in Arizona, a pregnant mother of four went to a Catholic hospital’s emergency room with a condition so life-threatening that her chances of imminent death without an abortion were nearly certain. She was too ill to transfer to another facility, so the hospital’s administrator, a nun, approved an emergency termination. The woman lived. The nun was excommunicated. Her standing with the church was eventually restored, but the hospital lost its 116-year affiliation with the Catholic Church.
Full piece here.