We must ensure separation of church, health care

When you rush to the hospital in excruciating pain, the last thing you would expect is to be sent home untreated. Well, that is what happened to Michigan resident Tamesha Means in December 2010 – twice.

Means rushed to Mercy Health Partners, a Catholic hospital, in Muskegon, Michigan, when her water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy. Her pregnancy wasn’t viable, yet the hospital sent her home twice while she was in excruciating pain, even though there were significant risks to her health.

“They never offered me any options,” said Means in an interview with the ACLU. “They didn’t tell me what was happening to my body. Whatever was going on with me, they discussed it amongst themselves. I was just left to wonder, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’”

Women may have a new battle on their hands in regards to their reproductive rights.

Catholic hospitals are buying up secular health providers as a wave of hospital mergers sweep across the country. The problem arises from the fact that Catholic hospitals are barred by church doctrine from performing procedures that could harm an unborn child.

One of the larger battles between Catholic hospitals and citizens is brewing in Washington State, which is heavily Democratic and leans to the left on a number of issues, including women’s rights. Washington voters passed a law making abortion a right in 1970, the only state to ever do so.

The number of hospital beds that are in religiously affiliated hospitals in Washington has risen from 26 percent in April 2010 to nearly half today, according to the local American Civil Liberties Union in a report by Al Jazeera.

The mergers are happening in part due to the Affordable Care Act.

“One of the consequences of the Affordable Care Act is that there are more mergers and consolidations in the health care industry,” said Monica Harrington, co-chair of Washington Women for Choice in an interview with Al Jazeera. “The Catholic churches and ministries are in a special position, in large part because of special exemptions and no-tax status they get from laws governing religious institutions. They are flush with cash at a time when many health care practices can’t survive unless they merge with others.”

Catholic hospitals are governed by a set of directives laid out in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care.” In the document it states, “Abortion [that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus] is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo.”

What many advocates are worried about and rightfully so, is when if ever can an abortion take place in regards to a protecting a woman’s health?

Hospitals provide a vital service to the public, and when those services are directed by religious doctrines, they are no longer serving the community’s best interests. The line religious institutions use to dictate their offered services needs to be monitored by the state to ensure that everyone receives the best services available.

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