CFC Testimony: Colorado Patient’s Right to Know Act
CFC Director of Policy Shannon Russell testified before the Colorado Senate Health and Human Services Committee in support of the Patient’s Right to Know Act (HB23-1218). This testimony was submitted on April 27, 2023 and was quoted in the Colorado Sun.
Catholics for Choice Supports HB23-1218
Dear Chair Fields, Vice Chair Ginal, and members of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee:
Established in 1973, Catholics for Choice (CFC) encounters, educates, and emboldens people of faith who support reproductive freedom. For fifty years, we have worked in the United States and around the world to ensure that all people everywhere can freely determine their sexual and reproductive destinies with dignity, respect, and affirmation. We believe that healthcare is a human right — and that includes access to abortion care, gender-affirming care, and end-of-life care. To that end, CFC strives to dismantle obstructions to comprehensive health services, particularly because these barriers disproportionately affect people of color, those working to make ends meet, and the most marginalized among us. On behalf of the overwhelming majority of Catholics and Coloradans who advocate for religious freedom and the right to equal protection and individual liberties for all, I urge you to support HB23-1218, the Patients’ Right to Know Act, which would empower patients to make health care decisions and receive care, free from judgment and discrimination.
As a faith-based organization, CFC has a strong and deeply-rooted conviction regarding the importance of government protections for conscience and conscience-based decisions in health care. Significantly, we believe that such policies must always prioritize the health and well-being of the patient as the role of individual conscience — which includes knowledge of ourselves, awareness of our moral principles, and the urge to act — is at the very core of our faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states that “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his [sic] conscience. If he [sic] were deliberately to act against it, he [sic] would condemn himself [sic].” We regard conscience as both a sacred gift and a responsibility: we are called to follow our conscience and respect the right of others to do the same.
As Catholics, we cannot and do not presume to tell others how best to listen to their own consciences as they make important decisions about their own care and that of their patients. Instead, we strive to ensure that all people have the resources necessary — including comprehensive, accurate medical information based in sound science and details regarding which providers deny services for non-medical reasons — to form their consciences and make the best possible decisions about their bodies, families, and futures. Passing the Patients’ Right to Know Act is a critical step in this direction, increasing transparency and enabling Coloradans to make better, more informed choices about where to seek care.
This legislation is urgently needed due to the ever-increasing complexity of our health care system, making it difficult for patients to determine what services a provider offers or to discover that certain providers are authorized to deny care or to fail to disclose complete information about the full range of medical options. In reality, refusals of care are not merely an inconvenience, but ultimately result in forcing many patients to delay or altogether forgo vital medical treatments. These refusals are particularly dangerous in situations where individuals have limited options, such as in emergencies, when needing specialized services, in rural areas, in communities of color or with lower incomes, or in areas where religiously-affiliated hospitals are the primary or sole institution serving a community. In fact, women of color disproportionately give birth in Catholic hospitals and are therefore refused many facets of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.
The devastating impact of obstructing another’s conscience by refusing or denying care cannot be overstated. Delays in abortion care and miscarriage management put providers in impossible situations and unnecessarily jeopardize patient health, safety, and lives. For instance, Lyndsay was forced to travel across state lines to get care while miscarrying after being turned away from a Catholic hospital. She noted that the physician assistant explained that “since the medication given to women who miscarry would cause what [the church hierarchy] considered an abortion, she couldn’t help me as the hospital didn’t even keep those medications in their pharmacy. I was pretty shocked. Not having timely access to the medication can lead to septic infections and other potentially deadly issues. I was discharged by a nurse who gave me my paperwork and asked if I had someone who could help me get care elsewhere. She apologized that they couldn’t help more, and I left the hospital. I was mostly just anxious to get to another facility that could help me.”
What’s more, evidence shows that when a person is denied a wanted abortion, their household falls deeper into poverty, an impact that lasts for years.The Turnaway Study focused on people who sought abortions, but whose right to access care was obstructed. Those who could not access abortion care were: more likely to have serious medical complications, including eclampsia and death, during birth; more likely to stay with abusive partners; more likely to deal with anxiety and low self-esteem; less likely to make aspirational life plans; and more likely to experience issues such as chronic pain and gestational hypertension for years after the pregnancy. The study also found that being denied abortion had serious, and often harmful, implications for the children born of unwanted pregnancy, as well as for existing children in the family.
Ultimately, of the women who were able to have abortions, 95% believed that it was the right decision for them over five years after the procedure.These people, and all people for that matter, are moral agents who have the right to make their own conscience-based health care decisions. Providing information about hospitals that deny care and a list of the services they refuse to provide through the Patients’ Right to Know Act would fulfill the government’s corresponding responsibility to respect their choices and ensure that they have resources and information necessary to follow through on them.
Refusals and denials of care also disproportionately harm LGBTQI+ people, especially those who are transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming. A 2022 Center for American Progress report found that:
- 15 percent of LGBQ respondents, including 23 percent of LGBQ respondents of color, reported experiencing some form of care refusal by a doctor or other health care provider in the year prior;
- 32 percent of transgender or nonbinary respondents, including 46 percent of transgender or nonbinary respondents of color, reported that they experienced at least one kind of care refusal by a health care provider in the past year; and
- 55 percent of intersex respondents reported that, in the past year, a health care provider refused to see them because of their sex characteristics or intersex variation.
In 2017, Oliver Knight was scheduled for a hysterectomy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka, California. According to Oliver, “[i]t’s the only hospital in the area, and I was so excited that my community offered transgender care. I could get the operation close to home and then recover with my loved ones . . . On Aug. 30, I arrived at the hospital and they checked me in and did the surgery prep, which was extremely uncomfortable and triggering. I was given a pink gown. I asked the nurse if I could have a blue gown, but she told me I was having a ‘female surgery’ and should wear the pink. I felt like a child all over again, sitting uncomfortably in a pink dress. But I forced myself to do it, I had been waiting so long for this . . . About an hour after waiting, my surgeon finally came to get me. But when I saw the look on his face, I got a terrible feeling. He told me my surgery was canceled. It was denied by the Catholic church for ethical reasons. I didn’t understand how this could be happening. The Catholic bishops didn’t approve of my surgery. It seemed unreal.”
Stories like Lyndsay’s and Oliver’s are simply unacceptable to Catholics who treasure the life of every human person. At CFC, we know with absolute certainty that people seeking reproductive, gender-affirming, and end-of-life care are fully realized human beings created in the image and likeness of God and deserve fair treatment, transparency, and respect when accessing health care, not judgment, discrimination, or coercion. Ultimately, Catholics believe deeply in the values of dignity, compassion, and justice and want all of our neighbors to be able to access the medically-accurate and compassionate care that they decide is right for them — no matter who they are, what identities they hold, where they live, or how much money they make. The Patients’ Right to Know Act would help to make this possible, easing the burden of refusals and denials of care and affirming patient dignity and autonomy in moral decision-making.
Thank you for holding a hearing on this important bill, which will provide potentially life-saving information to patients seeking care. Catholics for Choice urges you to swiftly pass this measure.
Director of Policy, Catholics for Choice