Women’s Health Advocates Call on U.S. Bishops to End Sterilization Ban at Catholic-Controlled Hospitals
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Bishops’ health care directives depriving poor women of most commonly used form of contraception, especially at non-Catholic hospitals merged with Catholic hospitals.
Washington, DC—A coalition of leading women’s health care advocates called today for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to revise their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (Directives) and end their ban on voluntary female sterilization at Catholic and Catholic-affiliated hospitals. The coalition’s call was contained in a letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory, who was just elected president of the USCCB at its fall 2001 meeting, which closes today in Washington, DC. Fifteen organizations, including women’s health, rights, and research groups, cited a review of 150 hospital mergers in the past decade that has identified at least 40 non-Catholic hospitals that had merged with Catholic hospitals and now face having to comply with the Directives and stop providing female sterilization to thousands of women, many of them poor.
The coalition offered to work with the USCCB to design a solution to preserve voluntary sterilization in all mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals. They appealed to the bishops’ to adhere to their position on providing equitable health care for all, particularly low-income people who cannot afford health insurance.
“Surely a pastoral exception can be made to allow non-Catholic hospitals in partnership with Catholic hospitals to provide a health care service that is so needed and vital, especially for low-income women. Such a exception would also allow the millions of Catholic and non-Catholic women who choose sterilization each year to exercise their freedom of conscience at the hospital of their choice, in their community.”
Responding to pressure from the Vatican, the bishops had voted to revise the Directives in June 2001, putting sterilization on par with abortion and euthanasia as an “intrinsically immoral” service and banning the procedure at all Catholic and Catholic-affiliated hospitals. Non-Catholic hospitals across the country are now struggling to find ways to avoid complying with the Directives and to continue to provide tubal ligation, a service that is one of the most affordable and safest methods of contraception.
The full text of the letter follows:
November 15, 2001
Bishop Wilton Gregory
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Dear Bishop Gregory:
As organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of women, we respectfully ask the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to reconsider its June 2001 decision to revise the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (“Directives“) as they relate to the provision of sterilization for women. The revised Directives strictly limit the ability of non-Catholic hospitals that have merged with Catholic hospitals to provide voluntary female sterilization. As a result, thousands of women, most of them poor, will be deprived of an essential health service option.
A review by Catholics for a Free Choice of the approximately 150 hospital mergers in the past decade has identified 40 such situations in which sterilization services were preserved but are now jeopardized by the revised Directives. We can also confirm that several of these hospitals, like Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, CA, are the only hospitals providing sterilization services for women in the area.
Preserving the option of voluntary female sterilization in such hospital mergers would be consistent with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ persistent calls for equitable health care for all, particularly low-income people who cannot afford health insurance. It would also be consistent with the wishes of the communities that insisted as a condition for approving the merger of a non-Catholic hospital with a Catholic hospital that voluntary sterilization continue to be offered. The citizens of these communities recognized that female sterilization—one of the most affordable and safest methods of contraception— is a service that women cannot do without.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, female sterilization is the most commonly used form of contraception in the United States. For couples who have completed their families, for women who cannot use other forms of contraception for health reasons, and for women whose lives or health would be endangered by another pregnancy and require certainty about their method of contraception, sterilization is an important option.
Surely a pastoral exception can be made to allow non-Catholic hospitals in partnership with Catholic hospitals to provide a health care service that is so needed and vital, especially for low-income women. Such an exception would also allow the millions of Catholic and non-Catholic women who choose sterilization each year to exercise their freedom of conscience at the hospital of their choice, in their community. At the same time, we remain concerned about arrangements that restrict access to women’s health service.
We would be happy to work with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to design a solution that would preserve voluntary sterilization services in all mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals nationwide.
ACLU Foundation of Southern California
Alan Guttmacher Institute
Americans for Religious Liberty
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
Catholics for a Free Choice
California Women’s Law Center
Center for Reproductive Law & Policy
Connecticut Coalition for Choice
National Health Law Program
National Women’s Law Center
Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
The Abortion Access Project
Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas
For more information, contact:
- ACLU Foundation of Southern California: Rocio Cordoba, 213-977-9500, ext. 236
- Alan Guttmacher Institute: Susan Tew, 212-248-1111
- Americans for Religious Liberty: Edd Doerr, 301-260-2988
- Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: Sean Prichard, 202-466-3825
- California Women’s Law Center: Diana Buckhantz, 323-934-0443
- Catholics for a Free Choice: Paul Silva, 202-986-6093
- Center for Reproductive Law & Policy: Susan Valentine, 202-530-2975
- Connecticut Coalition for Choice: Susan Lloyd Yolen, 203-752-2807
- NARAL/NY: Robert Jaffe, 212-343-0114
- National Health Law Program: Brendan McTaggart, 202-289-7661
- National Women’s Law Center: Margot Friedman, 202-588-5180
- Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health: Steven Goldstein, 212-399-0400
- Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: Marjorie Signer, 202-628-7700, ext. 208
- The Abortion Access Project: Susan Yanow, 617-661-1161
- Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas: Peggy Romberg, 512-448-4857
–end–Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to a person’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of all people to make moral decisions about their lives.