Catholic Health Care
Millions of people in the U.S. rely on Catholic health care every day—more than one in six hospital beds is Catholic-owned or affiliated. Yet patients are frequently denied access to the care they require because the hierarchy won’t allow its hospitals to provide a host of services, including reproductive health care. What’s more troubling? People are often unaware they’re seeking care at a Catholic hospital.
Catholics for Choice believes that hospitals should provide the full range of care their patients require, including reproductive health care services. Our work helps inform people of how the Catholic health care system restricts certain treatments and services. We connect people to materials, resources and strategies to help advocate for health care that addresses patients’ needs and allows individuals to follow their consciences. We envision a world in which patients and health care providers are allowed to exercise their consciences free from the hierarchy’s directives.
This report explains the impact of the Catholic hierarchy's religious guidelines on patients and providers.Catholic Health Care Report
Questions about Catholic Health Care
We've compiled these talking points to help inform Catholic conversations about the Catholic health care system.
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world.
In the U.S., Catholic hospitals are represented by the Catholic Health Association of the United States. It is comprised of more than 600 hospitals and 1,600 long-term care and other health facilities. Catholic hospitals are present in all 50 states and treat one out of six patients.
Absolutely. A 2002 study of nearly 600 religiously affiliated hospitals in the United States found that they received more than $45 billion in public funds. Approximately half of their revenues are comprised of funds from Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs. Despite receiving government money, these hospitals routinely deny basic reproductive health services.
No. People of any faith or no faith can seek care from a Catholic hospital. Oftentimes, patients aren’t aware that the hospital where they’re receiving care is part of the Catholic health care system.
No matter their faith, patients’ medical care will be governed by Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) that prohibit certain services, including contraception, abortion, end-of-life plans, sterilization procedures like tubal ligations and vasectomies, and medically necessary health care for transgender people.
No. Catholic hospitals employ doctors and other health care providers of all faiths and no faith. Yet all of them are required to follow religious directives imposed by the Catholic hierarchy.
Catholic-owned and affiliated institutions, including hospitals, clinics and HMOs, are governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, authored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The ERDs explicitly forbid medical procedures that contradict church teaching, regardless of the religious beliefs or religious denomination of the patient seeking services or the medical professional providing them.
There are a total of 77 ERDs as of the 2018. In practice, the Directives mean:
- No access to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.
- No ability to choose modern contraception, including sterilization.
- Restrictions on treatment for ectopic pregnancy.
- No access to in vitro fertilization.
- None of the benefits of embryonic stem cell research.
- No deference to advanced medical directives.
- No access to emergency contraception, except in cases of sexual assault after it can be proven that pregnancy has not occurred.
Catholic hospitals benefit tremendously from their status as charitable organizations that receive millions of dollars from ordinary taxpayers. They should honor the full scope of the medical needs of the public, rather than forcing everyone, Catholic or not Catholic, to abide by their rules.
Sacrificing people’s right to access a comprehensive selection of reproductive health care services so that a few bishops can see their religious beliefs cast upon the national stage is not a fair trade. And silencing the voices and practices of caring doctors betrays fundamental Catholic principles like the importance of conscience and care of the sick.
As Catholics, we are called by our faith to follow our conscience in all matters of moral decision-making and to respect the right of others to do the same.
We recognize the right of individual medical professionals to decline to provide services they consider immoral. However, it goes too far to grant such rights to an entire institution—such as a hospital or managed-care provider—or, for that matter, to allow blanket exclusions of coverage for necessary health care services.