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June 15, 2001

Vote on new healthcare directives to reduce reproductive health services for women in half of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S

Atlanta, GA–The following statement by Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, is in response to the vote taken today by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) to revise their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (Directives) —putting sterilization on a par with abortion and euthanasia as an “intrinsically immoral” service and banning the procedure at all Catholic and Catholic-affiliated hospitals.

“The NCCB decision to close loopholes that currently permit sterilization in Catholic and Catholic-affiliated hospitals is deeply troubling, for three reasons.  First, and most importantly, it jeopardizes the health and well-being of U.S. women, especially poor women who most often rely on local Catholic-affiliated hospitals for reproductive healthcare.

“Secondly, six months ago, the Catholic Health Association (CHA) clearly stated that such a move by the bishops would mean a tightening up on sterilization and create major problems for them as healthcare providers.  They have contracts in place that require sterilization services to continue being performed in merged facilities. Any number of CHA’s non-Catholic hospital partners will not be willing to stop performing sterilization, the most common form of contraception.  Those contracts could become null and void and they could lose mergers, both existing and new ones.

“Hospitals were told at the time of merging with Catholic hospitals or healthcare systems that abortion was the only problem and that they could accommodate other services.  But if sterilization is stopped by the bishops, what will come next?

“The bishops and the CHA are, as would be expected, putting the most positive spin on this vote.  CHA has to go back to their partner hospitals and explain what this really means for the women they serve.  I believe many hospitals will decide to terminate contracts in Catholic systems, if sterilization is foreclosed.

“Finally, I find this vote theologically disturbing. There is not even a remote possibility that sterilization is an abortifacient.  It is not a life issue in anyone’s mind.  In fact, sterilization prevents abortion, as it is a simple, effective method of contraception.

“The bishops’ shortsightedness in bowing to Vatican pressure on sterilization erodes their credibility in the health community and threatens the viability of Catholic healthcare.”