Rapidly Expanding Religious Hospitals Are Trying to Govern Ladyparts

Some of the nation's largest health networks are run by religious orders. Because of this, they invoke "conscience clauses" in refusing to provide birth control, perform abortions, or sterilize women who want a tubal ligation. But now, some states are attempting to block religious hospitals' expansion, saying their mass imposition of belief on the female population could endanger public health.

The New York Times' Reed Abelson reports that because of their special tax-exempt status, health care institutions run by religious orders have fared better financially than their for-profit cousins. As a result, many of them have prospered when others have faltered, and stronger health care systems are buying up weaker hospitals. As a result, in many parts of the country, the only available hospital is a hospital that's run according to Catholic beliefs. Which means no birth control, abortion, or IVF. Women who wish to receive a tubal ligation after a Cesarean Section would have their request denied as well. In one instance, a nun in Arizona who approved an abortion for a woman who would have otherwise died was excommunicated after a bishop concluded that the move was morally wrong.

Non-church officials in places where this is happening are understandably concerned. Women often aren't aware of a religious hospital's objections to prescribing certain types of medication or performing certain procedures before seeking care, so they're forced to travel elsewhere. When religious hospitals practically monopolize a geographic area, allowing their continued expansion is akin to shutting women out from legal medical procedures. A hospital system in San Francisco formally cut ties with the Church due to demands they felt could not be met without compromising patients' health. In Rockford, IL, some elected officials are fighting to keep a Catholic hospital from purchasing a secular hospital, because the Catholic hospital would require women to go elsewhere for a tubal ligation.

Officials have a right to be concerned. It seems that allowing religious hospitals expand to the point that women seeking abortion, tubal ligation, or birth control would have to another city for the services that they need would violate the Undue Burden Standard that's supposed to protect women's access to reproductive choice by guaranteeing she be free of "undue burden" while seeking abortion. If lawmakers allow religious hospitals to achieve near-monopoly, one could argue that the move was akin to lawmakers erecting barriers that interfere with the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of choice. Is there anything more burdensome than showing up at a hospital only to be told that your lifesaving abortion must be performed elsewhere because it might make a celibate dude in a hat angry? If belief interferes with what's best for the patient, do religions have any business administering health care in the first place?

Growth of Catholic hospitals may limit access to reproductive care [NYT]