A Bellingham, Washington woman named Alison was three months pregnant was sent home three times by a Catholic hospital even while bleeding, passing a blood clot the “size of a jawbreaker,” and running a fever of 100.4. It was only until a single doctor at the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center told Alison that she could have an abortion to end her life-threatening pregnancy, because the hospital avoided telling her it was an option due to religious restrictions.
Rewire.News reports that when Alison was eventually told by a doctor that her life was in danger and she could have surgery to end her pregnancy, he couldn’t proceed until the hospitals ethics committee approved the surgery:
Citing Catholic policy, PeaceHealth bans abortion unless its “direct purpose” is the “cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman” and it “cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable.” In other words, the hospital would permit the life-saving surgery only if the committee considered Alison sick enough.
“I remember being scared about that,” Alison told Rewire.News. “You’re telling me this is really serious and that my life is in danger, and we have to wait, and these people have to say it’s OK for you to have this procedure you absolutely need.” If her surgery wasn’t approved, Alison was going to be sent 90 miles away to Seattle, as PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is the only hospital in Bellingham, in a state where more than 40 percent of hospitals are Catholic. Eventually PeaceHealth’s hospital approved Alison’s surgery, but she ended up miscarrying in the process after taking misoprostol.
What happened to Alison isn’t an isolated incident, as women who seek care in Catholic hospitals find their level of care and options immensely restricted due to religion even as they battle fatal pregnancies. In 2015 a Michigan woman requested for a tubal litigation immediately after giving birth due to brain tumors that would make future pregnancies fatal, but her Catholic hospital pushed against that saying doctors were not allowed to perform sterilization. In 2016 a former health official for Michigan Catholic hospital Mercy Health Partners told reporters that the hospital’s ban on abortions led women to suffer through painful miscarriages that were prolonged by the ban and the insistence that doctors simply monitor for infections rather than induce miscarriage.
Rewire.News found that even though all hospital in Washington state are required to disclose their reproductive health care policies on the site, many are not clear when it comes to providing abortion and the process involved with terminating a pregnancy. It’s this lack of transparency that leads to confusion in patients across the country. A 2018 New York Times report cites that one in six hospital patients in the United States is treated in a Catholic hospital, especially in isolated rural communities. In a study the paper conducted of 652 websites of Catholic hospitals in the United States nearly two-thirds of the time “it took more than three clicks from the home page to determine that the hospital was Catholic.” For many women a Catholic hospital is their only option for immediate health care, but it’s certainly not the safest.