Criticism for Catholic Hospital Practices

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News release) – The American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch today released reports that reveal that one in six hospital beds in the United States is in a facility that complies with the Catholic Directives that prohibit a range of health care services even when a woman’s life or health is in jeopardy.

In some states, more than 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a Catholic facility, leaving entire regions without any option for certain reproductive health care. The ACLU’s report shares firsthand accounts from patients who have been denied appropriate care at Catholic hospitals, from health care providers forbidden from providing critical care because of the Directives, and from physicians at secular hospitals who have treated very sick women after they were turned away from a Catholic facility.

The report also identifies Arkansas which has 1,589 hospital beds, accounting for 22.6 percent of all hospital beds in the state.

“Women’s stories about sub-standard, sometimes life-endangering ‘healthcare’ at Catholic hospitals would shock anyone,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar. “Pregnant women who enter Catholic hospitals, even if it is through the emergency room, bleeding heavily, should not expect their health or their lives to be of paramount importance to hospital staff, as it should be according to federal law, medical standards, and the value Americans put on women’s lives. We should be grateful that the planned merger of University of Arkansas Medical Sciences hospital and St. Vincent’s CHI did not happen; this report explains shows that the concerns we expressed at the time were based in hair-raising reality.”

Jennafer and Jason Norris of Rogers, Arkansas were stunned to find out that her health and life were not the top priority to the hospital where she delivered her baby: “[I]t’s shocking when a hospital that is open to the public, and takes government funding, can cite their faith as a reason to deny you a necessary medical service,” said Jason. Jennafer summarized it simply: “They are jeopardizing my life.” Their story is found in the ACLU’s report.

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, set forth standards that are to govern at Catholic health care facilities. The Directives prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion, even when a woman’s life or health is jeopardized by a pregnancy. Because of these rules, many Catholic hospitals across the country are withholding emergency care from patients who are in the midst of a miscarriage or experiencing other pregnancy complications. Catholic hospitals also routinely prohibit doctors from performing tubal ligations (commonly known as “getting your tubes tied”) at the time of delivery, when the procedure is safest, leaving patients to undergo an additional surgery elsewhere after recovering from childbirth. Catholic hospitals deny these essential health services despite receiving billions in taxpayer dollars. Transgender and gender-non-conforming patients suffer the same and other similar harms when seeking reproductive health care.

Top Report Findings
Looking to new data from MergerWatch, the ACLU report finds:

  • One in six hospital beds in the United States is in a Catholic hospital
  • A total of 548 hospitals, or 14.5 percent of all short-term acute care hospitals in the U.S., comply with the Directives, because they are owned by a Catholic health system or diocese, affiliated with a Catholic hospital or system through a business partnership, or are historically Catholic hospitals that continue to follow the Directives despite now being owned by a secular non-profit or for-profit health care system. This reflects an increase of 22 percent since 2001
  • In some places, such as Washington State, more than 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a Catholic hospital, and entire regions have no other option for hospital care.
  • In 10 states, more than 30 percent of all hospital beds are in Catholic facilities, and in nearly half the states, more than one in five hospital beds is in a Catholic facility

Report Recommendations:

  • A statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) clarifying that all hospitals, regardless of religious affiliation, are required by federal law to provide emergency reproductive health care;
  • A systematic investigation by CMS into violations by Catholic hospitals of federal laws requiring emergency care, and a commitment to taking all necessary corrective action where violations are found;
  • Most importantly, a change in public policies, to protect women in need of reproductive health services and the practitioners who are prohibited from providing this essential care.

The ACLU and MergerWatch are at the forefront of the fight to ensure that hospitals cannot deny essential health care to women because of their religious affiliations. For instance, the ACLU has filed lawsuits against hospital system giants, including Trinity Health in Michigan and Dignity Health in California, for violating federal law requiring the provision of emergency health care and for discriminating against women; against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for imposing the Directives on Catholic hospitals; and a lawsuit against the U.S. government for allowing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to deny reproductive health care access to survivors of human trafficking.

Click here for the full ACLU report that features testimony from medical experts and personal stories from women who were denied care at Catholic hospitals.

Click here for the full MergerWatch report.

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