(Headline USA) As numerous Republican-governed states push for sweeping bans on abortion, there is a coinciding surge of leftist concern in some Democratic-led states that options for reproductive health care are dwindling due to expansion of Catholic hospital networks.
These are states such as Oregon, Washington, California and Connecticut, where abortion will remain legal despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Leftists are concerned that these blue states pertain to such services as contraception, sterilization and certain procedures for handling pregnancy emergencies.
These services are widely available at secular hospitals but generally forbidden, along with abortion, at Catholic facilities under directives set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The differing perspectives on these services can clash when a Catholic hospital system seeks to acquire or merge with a non-sectarian hospital, as is happening now in Connecticut.
State officials are assessing a bid by Catholic-run Covenant Health to merge with Day Kimball Healthcare, an independent, financially struggling hospital and health care system based in the town of Putnam.
“We need to ensure that any new ownership can provide a full range of care — including reproductive health care, family planning, gender-affirming care and end-of-life care,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat.
Lois Utley, a specialist in tracking hospital mergers, said her organization, Community Catalyst, has identified more than 20 municipalities in blue or purple states where the only acute care hospitals are Catholic.
“We are definitely sliding backwards in terms of comprehensive reproductive health,” Utley said. “Catholic systems are taking over many physician practices, urgent care centers, ambulatory care centers, and patients seeking contraception won’t be able to get it if their physician is now part of that system.”
According to the Catholic Health Association, there are 654 Catholic hospitals in the U.S., including 299 with obstetric services. The CHA says more than one in seven U.S. hospital patients are cared for in a Catholic facility.
The CHA’s president, Sister Mary Haddad, said the hospitals provide a wide range of prenatal, obstetric and postnatal services while assisting in about 500,000 births annually.
“This commitment is rooted in our reverence for life, from conception to natural death,”Haddad said via email. “As a result, Catholic hospitals do not offer elective abortions.”
Protocols are different for dire emergencies when the mother “suffers from an urgent, life-threatening condition during pregnancy,” Haddad said. “Catholic health clinicians provide all medically indicated treatment even if it poses a threat to the unborn.”
This approach is now being mirrored in several states imposing bans that allow abortions only to save a mother’s life. There is concern that doctors governed by such bans—whether a state law or a Catholic directive—may endanger a pregnant woman’s health by withholding treatment as she begins to show ill effects from a pregnancy-related problem.