After experiencing life-threatening pre-eclampsia during her first two pregnancies, Jennafer Norris decided she could not risk getting pregnant again. But several years later, suffering debilitating headaches and soaring blood pressure, she realized her I.U.D. had failed. She was pregnant, and the condition had returned.
At 30 weeks, with her health deteriorating, she was admitted to her local hospital in Rogers, Ark., for an emergency cesarean section. To ensure that she would never again be at risk, she asked her obstetrician to tie her tubes immediately following the delivery.
The doctor’s response stunned her. “She said she’d love to but couldn’t because it was a Catholic hospital,” Ms. Norris, 38, recalled in an interview.
Experiences like hers are becoming more common, as a wave of mergers widens the reach of Catholic medical facilities across the United States, and the Trump administration finalizes regulations to further expand the ability of health care workers and institutions to decline to provide specific medical procedures for moral or religious reasons.
One in six hospital patients in the United States is now treated in a Catholic facility, according to the Catholic Health Association, a membership organization that includes 90 percent of the Catholic hospitals in the United States. In a 2016 report, MergerWatch, a nonprofit group in New York that tracks hospital consolidation, found that in 10 states, 30 percent or more of the acute-care hospital beds were under Catholic ownership, or in a hospital affiliated with a Catholic health care system. In a growing number of rural areas, a Catholic hospital is the sole provider of acute care.
Most facilities provide little or no information up front about procedures they won’t perform. The New York Times analyzed 652 websites of Catholic hospitals in the United States, using a list maintained by the Catholic Health Association. On nearly two-thirds of them, it took more than three clicks from the home page to determine that the hospital was Catholic. Only 17 individual Catholic hospital websites, fewer than 3 percent, contained an easily found list of services not offered for religious reasons, and all of them were in Washington State, which requires that such information be published on a hospital’s site. In the rest of the country, such lists, if available, were posted only on the corporate parent’s site, and they were often difficult to find.
So-called conscience protections for health care workers began in the 1970s with enactment of a number of state and federal measures, and they generally received bipartisan support, said Holly Fernandez Lynch, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “But,” she said, “they’re now moving in an extreme direction that ignores patient access to both services and information.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division with the stated goal of ensuring that health care workers and institutions are never forced to deliver medical services they object to.
“I think this issue has not gotten the attention it has deserved for far too long,” said Roger Severino, the department’s director of the Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing federal conscience laws. Read more via New York Times