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Catholic Healthcare Expansion Denies Emergency Services to Women Who have been Raped

April 5, 1999

Catholic group releases new report detailing the impact of Catholic mergers and affiliations with non-Catholic hospitals on reproductive healthcare

Washington, DC – Medically accepted standards of care for women who have been raped is being denied to many women by Catholic hospitals. This is one finding from a new report by Catholics for a Free Choice entitledCaution: Catholic Health Restrictions May Be Hazardous to your Health. The report presents a detailed study of the specific impacts of Catholic healthcare expansion and examines trends in hospital mergers in 1998.The reports contains an exclusive survey of 589 emergency rooms in Catholic hospitals which revealed that 82% of those questioned in emergency rooms refused to administer emergency contraception- even to women who have been raped.

Catholic hospitals are bound to follow a set of rules on health practices, known as the Directives, which ban many basic reproductive health services, including contraceptive sterilization; contraceptive education and supplies; in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination; Aids prevention education and condom distribution and abortions. The report describes how the very nature of Catholic hospitals, as well as the move towards healthcare consolidation, continues to threaten access to a wide range of reproductive health services.

Frances Kissling, President of Catholics for a Free Choice said: “Many women across the country are still unaware that the services they enjoy today can be wiped out tomorrow by Catholic healthcare restrictions in newly merged facilities. The explosion of merger activity that began in 1994 continues apace with catholic mergers involving catholic hospitals tripling in 1998 over the previous year.”

Kissling said, “The most shocking aspect of our study was that where emergency contraception was not available, only 22% of emergency rooms at Catholic hospitals provided a useful referral. Of the referrals received, 40 percent were minimal and not very helpful. For a woman who has been raped this message that you are on your own is a disgrace to the proud tradition of social justice that catholic hospitals come from. When one considers that women with financial means can go to private doctors or travel to distant clinics it becomes apparent that it is low-income women who rely most on hospitals for their health services and it is this most disadvantaged group that will suffer. The situation in Catholic hospitals that denies women the emergency contraception they need or a referral best illustrates and illuminates the human tragedy that lies at the core of the Catholic Directives”

The latest report illustrates a number of worrying trends:

  • Since 1990, 34 states experienced a Catholic/non-Catholic merger or affiliation. In 50 percent of those mergers, the consolidation eliminated all or some reproductive health services.
  • There are currently 91 counties that have a Catholic hospital operating as a sole provider—a 20 percent increase over 1997. Ninety-five percent of these hospitals are in counties with a minority-Catholic population.
  • Almost a third of the 481 hospitals that denied emergency contraception refused to provide a referral to another hospital or provider.

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