Catholic Healthcare Forgets Mary Had a Choice

health care is a human right

It is well documented that healthcare disparity exists among minorities and the poor. While the threats to defund Planned Parenthood and to repeal the Affordable Care Act are increasing, we cannot lose focus on states’ restrictive abortion laws and hospital mergers. A common thread seems to be to end and restrict reproductive healthcare. This includes fertility treatments, healthcare screenings, birth control and above all sound safe medical advice by physicians and professionals who give patients all the options.

When Planned Parenthood is shuttered, when health care plans are unaffordable, and when hospital mergers occur under the guise of more services, (particularly increasing Catholic healthcare system facilities), choice and informed medical treatment options regarding reproductive health are also gone. State laws written by legislators with no medical expertise or input from medical community also restrict reproductive health.

Communities often resort to legal channels to maintain healthcare services to minority populations, and have done so for decades. In the late 1970’s, Gary, Indiana filed a suit when the Gary hospital built a satellite campus in the adjacent predominantly white populated town. More resources were put into the newer satellite campus while the other faltered. A consent decree settled the court case, and ensured the two campuses would have equal updates. Similar court cases occurred in DE, IL, MO, NC, TX and NY. Occasionally the decree or court decision is not enforced or is ignored and communities suffer.

States continue to pass laws that restrict and impede reproductive health, especially abortion. Many laws mandate medically unnecessary invasive procedures. Indiana is voting to require parental approval for abortions of minors including those whose pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Physicians will be regulated to give unproven medical advice (suggesting it is reversible) to women who change their minds after taking the first medical abortion pill. Not only unproven, but ACOG – American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians – published report on the dangers of this suggestion.

The driving force behind the threats to defund Planned Parenthood, increase TRAP laws and abortion matters, and repeal the ACA have no medical basis. It seems to come from greed as well as mandating one religious view of reproductive health onto everyone.

This is the danger that comes with the increasing monopoly of Catholic healthcare. These institutions receive federal reimbursement yet refuse to provide all services on reproductive health. Not only are procedures prohibited, staff and physicians are unable to refer patients or give them all the treatment options – even when it means saving a life. They take away choice under the guise of morality. The Catholic Catechism and importance of Mary’s “fiat”, her “yes “to the Angel Gabriel to bearing the Christ Child, clearly indicates choice. Choice does not equate to abortion.

For many states, including Northwest Indiana, the overwhelming majority of hospitals are Catholic administered. This means they operate under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare (ERD), written by the United States Conference of Bishops. Staff and physicians are obligated to adhere to these as a condition of employment and privileges.

The community, physicians and staff may be surprised to hear that the Catholic Church considers what they personally believe to be moral is considered sinful. In the language of the ERDs, procedures that are “intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization” are prohibited. This includes no coverage of birth control in healthcare plans.

  • Women who have decided they do not wish any more pregnancies and want their tubes tied cannot have this done at a Catholic hospital.  Should a man choose vasectomy, this is also prohibited. The Catholic teachings take precedence over the individuals’ moral compass and their physician’s treatment plan.
  • In vitro fertilization, heterologous or homologous fertilization is prohibited. OB Clinics in Catholic institutions may not give information on birth control or other reproductive health choices in the area. This limitation compromises the pregnancies that are wanted.
  • Termination of pregnancy is prohibited under all circumstances – even when the mother’s life is endangered. Regarding ectopic pregnancies and a nonviable fetus, the ERDS forbid the use of methotrexate – a non surgical treatment. Instead the woman must undergo surgery with all the added risks including anesthesia, extended recovery time and expense.
  • Even when a woman experiences premature rupture of the membranes, treatment is delayed . Medical intervention is allowed, even though it may indirectly lead to the death of the fetus, but the importance is on the fetus.
  • Should a woman’s diagnostic tests reveal a fatal fetal anomaly, such as TaySachs, where the baby will die, an abortion cannot be permitted.

These are only a few examples.

Patients deserve treatment options and sound medical advice. Yet the ERDs remove the option of informed choice by regulating the medical options a physician owes to their patient. Patients will not know that they have legal and medically proven alternative options, which would be honored at a non-Catholic institution.

As a Chaplain, I respect the faith, values, and choices of those with whom I minister. My spirituality does not condemn nor judge the other’s views or their religious practices. The danger in the attacks on reproductive healthcare is the underlying thread that one religious view becomes law for medical treatment. Regarding the ERDs as they relate to medical care, Dr. Sue Ellen Braunlin, co-founder of   Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, notes, “The ERDs required by the USCCB are below the international medical standard of care.”

The safety and availability of healthcare must remain our focus. Our communities deserve services they can afford and facilities that respect their beliefs. As a nation we have an obligation to provide services to those in need. We cannot turn around and delete medical procedures based on one religious view. Providing a “choice” that is unaffordable is not a choice. Continuing to stigmatize those who choose abortion has become the norm.

The attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, repeal ACA, and criminalize abortion are dangerous. To support growing Catholic healthcare systems and those that will not permit physicians to act within medical ethics without regulating transparency and medical choices will only result in preventable deaths and more individuals unable to seek or receive care.

Rev. Marie Siroky is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ serving as a Chaplain in Northwest Indiana. A former nun who taught in the inner-city of Philadelphia, Marie self defines as having a “Catholic Spine” and is fiercely protective of religious freedoms for all as well as addressing injustice in every form (including Cubs fans). She is past president of the Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination (ICON) advocating for LGBT justice in Indiana for over 15 years. She currently serves on the board of UCAN (the United Church of Christ’s HIV/AIDS network). She and her wife have been together over 24 years, married in Iowa in 2009, and are current members of Trinity United Church of Christ in her hometown of Gary, Indiana. Follow Rev. Marie Siroky on Twitter: @GaryMillrat. You can also find her writing at http://garymillrat.com.

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