Denver Struggles to Keep Reproductive Services at Hospitals Slated for Catholic Takeover.
The unexpected delay by the Federal Trade Commission to bless the transaction may provide local critics with a last gasp effort to continue fighting the deal. Community members and medical professionals contend the transfer would unfairly subject comprehensive reproductive health and end-of-life care to church doctrine over patients’ needs. The Catholic church considers abortion, contraception, elective sterilization and termination of invasive life support as “intrinsically evil” and refuses to provide these medical services or respect patients’ advance directives.
The disputed takeover in Denver exemplifies the very serious implications for the 127 non-denominational hospitals that succumbed to merger fever with cash-flush Catholic health care systems in the 1990s. According to a study by Catholics for Choice, half of merged secular-Catholic hospitals suspended most or all of their reproductive health care services. Eighty-two percent denied emergency contraception to rape victims — and more than a third refused to provide a referral.
But for some tax-exempt, nonprofit hospitals co-owned by secular and church interests, there was little more than a wink and a nod to church mandates on care. Comprehensive reproductive healthcare services quietly remained available.
These practices received higher scrutiny in 2001 when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops revised its Ethical and Religious Directives for medical care to address “misinterpretation and misapplication of the principle of cooperation with other-than-Catholic organizations.” In other words, the church would no longer turn a blind eye to reproductive health and end-of-life care at its secular partner facilities that did not meet strict Catholic orthodoxy.
More importantly, the local hospital policymaking was a little noticed precursor to the bare knuckles strategy on recent display with the church’s relentless lobbying for the 2009 Stupak and Nelson amendments to further restrict access to abortion care via publicly-subsidized health insurance plans. At the same time, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., threatened to end social service programs for tens of thousands of poor residents if the city council approved a same-sex marriage ordinance.
Now, the Denver hospital takeover is offering a glimpse of the intense pressure being brought to bear by the church on its healthcare partners. The Vatican’s renewed insistence on complete doctrinal influence on patient care is bolstered by very real threats to hold desperately needed institutional capital funds hostage until its theological demands are met.
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