The Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion is revealing the growing influence of Catholic health systems and their restrictions on reproductive services including birth control and abortion — even in the diminishing number of states where the procedure remains legal.
Catholic systems now control about 1 in 7 U.S. hospital beds, requiring religious doctrine to guide treatment, often to the surprise of patients. Their ascendancy has broad implications for the evolving national battle over reproductive rights beyond abortion, as bans against it take hold in more than a dozen Republican-led states.
The Catholic health-care facilities follow directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that prohibit treatment it deems “immoral”: sterilization including vasectomies, postpartum tubal ligations and contraception, as well as abortion. Those policies can limit treatment options for obstetric care during miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, particularly in the presence of a fetal heartbeat.
“The directives are not just a collection of dos and don’ts,” said John Brehany, executive vice president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a longtime consultant to the conference of bishops. “They are a distillation of the moral teachings of the Catholic Church as they apply to modern health care.” As such, he said, any facility that identifies as Catholic must abide by them.
The role of Catholic doctrine in U.S. health care has expanded during a years-long push to acquire smaller institutions — a reflection of consolidation in the hospital industry, as financially challenged community hospitals and independent physicians join bigger systems to gain access to electronic health records and other economies of scale. Acquisition by a Catholic health system has, at times, kept a town’s only hospital from closing.
Four of the nation’s 10 largest health systems are now Catholic, according to a 2020 report by the liberal health advocacy organization Community Catalyst. The 10 largest Catholic health systems control 394 short-term, acute-care hospitals, a 50 percent increase over the past two decades. In Alaska, Iowa, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin, 40 percent or more of hospital beds are in Catholic facilities.
“It’s all about market share,” said Lois Uttley, a senior adviser to the hospital equity and accountability project at Community Catalyst. Uttley, who has been tracking hospital mergers and acquisitions since the 1990s, said that with fewer choices, patients today face more difficulty obtaining reproductive services….
The above comes from an Oct. 10 posting on msn.com.