Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Far Religious Right Attacks Coakley for Supporting Emergency Contraception for Rape Victims.

The Massachussetts senate race, in the wake of Kennedy's death, is bringing the issue of emergency contraception and Catholic hospitals back into the news - and it's a good thing.

While Drudge and others are criticizing Martha Coakley, who's running against the creepy "pro-life" candidate Scott Brown, for supporting laws that require Catholic hospitals to administer emergency contraception to rape victims, the straight-forward issue of Catholic doctrinal treatment of a pluralistic society is again getting a necessary spotlight.

The Catholic church is the second largest provider of health care in the US, after Veteran's Affairs. If you stop by here often, you know that the 624 Catholic hospitals in the country, hundreds of long-term care and hospice facilities, and 60 health care networks all operate according to doctrine approved by the USCCB. These directives stipulate that religious ideology be used to refuse common and accepted medical procedures to the millions of patients who pass through Catholic health care institutions each year. Fifty Catholic hospitals in the US are sole providers, the only hospital serving a community, and the difficult economy is forcing Catholic and secular hospitals to merge at an ever-increasing pace which results in further limitation of services such as tubal ligations, fertilization procedures, counseling on STD and AIDS prevention, contraception, and compliance with patients' advance directives at end of life.

Patients go into Catholic institutions expecting to receive modern medical care and find that they are subject to Catholic doctrine. What allows this draconian application of religious ideology to a mixed society, despite tax exempt status and 50% of funding from the federal government, is a series of laws that protect not only individual provider refusal of service - so-called conscience clauses - but those of an institution. And Catholic hospitals are currently able to deny informed consent by not notifying patients of common medical services available, but to not even refer patients to other care facilities for such services.

The Catholic church and allied "pro-life" groups consider some forms of contraception to be abortion and therefore resist state and federal laws regarding distribution of emergency contraception to rape victims. Massachussetts is one of the US states that requires rape victims be informed of and offered EC when they enter a hospital.

Yet multiple studies have found that Catholic hospitals across the country have worked around such a requirement, offering EC only after it is proven (via yet more tests) that the woman is not pregnant. In other words, the Catholic church is not complying with the law. Coakley has brought this up as an important issue and opponents are using it to discredit her campaign.

Studies have shown that even Catholics strongly oppose the USCCBs teachings. A full 97% of Catholic women will use some form of birth control in their lifetimes.

By continuing to treat women with discrimination, Catholic hospitals are applying restrictions that are not supported by their church members nor society. Coakley is right to bring this issue to the light. Women traumatized by rape should not be shamed nor denied modern medical treatment simply because they've wandered into a Catholic hospital.

We have laws that prevent discrimination against women. They should be enforced.

UPDATE: Don't miss this new research paper at SSRN on conscience and emergency contraception.

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