Are Catholic hospitals being deceptive? The New York Times says, 'Yes'


The rush of recent news about sexually abusive priests and erring bishops has moved our critiques of other things Catholic to the side for several weeks.

Thus, I want to flash back and spotlight a story that ran Aug. 10 in the New York Times about Catholic hospitals.

Such hospitals do not offer direct sterilization, abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide. They also don’t do hysterectomies for transgender people and tubal ligations. 

Here, readers learn, Catholic doctrine is not only the enemy but the cause of endangering womens’ lives. The opening salvo, about a hospital refusing to offer what could be life-saving care, is an attention-getter.

After experiencing life-threatening pre-eclampsia during her first two pregnancies, Jennafer Norris decided she could not risk getting pregnant again. But several years later, suffering debilitating headaches and soaring blood pressure, she realized her I.U.D. had failed. She was pregnant, and the condition had returned.
At 30 weeks, with her health deteriorating, she was admitted to her local hospital in Rogers, Ark., for an emergency cesarean section. To ensure that she would never again be at risk, she asked her obstetrician to tie her tubes immediately following the delivery.
The doctor’s response stunned her. “She said she’d love to but couldn’t because it was a Catholic hospital,” Ms. Norris, 38, recalled in an interview.
Experiences like hers are becoming more common, as a wave of mergers widens the reach of Catholic medical facilities across the United States, and the Trump administration finalizes regulations to further expand the ability of health care workers and institutions to decline to provide specific medical procedures for moral or religious reasons.

We learn that one in six hospital patients in the United States is in a Catholic hospital, but that in most cases, it’s tough to learn on the web sites of these hospitals just which services they do not offer.

The article definitely gave both sides their day in court but what struck me was the overall tone of the piece. It was that Catholic hospitals are restrictive places that forbid all manner of services and are deceptive about what they don’t offer, so buyer beware.

Most facilities provide little or no information up front about procedures they won’t perform. The New York Times analyzed 652 websites of Catholic hospitals in the United States, using a list maintained by the Catholic Health Association. On nearly two-thirds of them, it took more than three clicks from the home page to determine that the hospital was Catholic…
Many patients across the country are unaware that a hospital is Catholic to begin with. In a study published last year in the journal Contraception, researchers surveyed 1,430 women, and of those whose primary hospital was Catholic, 37 percent were not aware of the religious affiliation.

The Times had another source: A series of pieces by FiveThirtyEight examining how Catholic bishops are influencing care in Catholic rural hospitals. Although it's very informative, it too is ultra-critical of the Catholic Church and its right live out its doctrines in the real world.

“When the hospital had a very Catholic-sounding name, women were much more likely to get it right,” said Professor Freedman, one of the authors of the study.
She pointed out that over the past decade or so, a number of Catholic hospitals have changed their names to something less obviously Catholic. In 2012, for example, Catholic Healthcare West became Dignity Health.
“At the end of the day, it appears that Catholic systems want to diminish their Catholic identity to be more marketable,” Professor Freedman said.

OK, so Catholic hospitals follow guidelines from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- but what about some explanation of the reasons behind these directives? Unpack the reasons why Catholics don’t consider abortion, sterilization and contraception to be health care. Also, will healthcare improve if these hospitals are forced to close?

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division with the stated goal of ensuring that health care workers and institutions are never forced to deliver medical services they object to.
“I think this issue has not gotten the attention it has deserved for far too long,” said Roger Severino, the department’s director of the Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing federal conscience laws.

We then learn that Severino is a Catholic and that the number of conscience complaints has risen by 160 percent since President Donald Trump took office. But then the Times came up with a ridiculous “what if” sentence.

The department accompanied its announcement of the new division with a lengthy proposed federal rule that expands the types of people and entities that can assert conscience or religious objections. Critics of the proposed rule say that it would allow, say, an office assistant to refuse to schedule a vasectomy, or for a nurse to refuse to take the vital signs of a transgender patient.

Seriously? There isn’t a nurse in this country who would refuse to treat a sick patient, transgender or otherwise, and the Times knows that’s a ridiculous example. (See America magazine's article about Catholic hospitals welcoming transgender and LGBT patients).

Meanwhile, what about truer-to-life examples like pro-life nurses being forced to assist at abortions? That’s what the fuss is really about.

We’re told later that in some areas, the Catholic hospital is the only game in town. What doesn’t get said is the Catholics are often the only ones to provide health care in certain poor or rural areas. That's a doctrine thing, too.

Even some procedures that might appear to be necessary safeguards against medical complications are prohibited by the (Ethical and Religious Directives established by the USCCB). For instance, if a fetus is no longer viable after a woman’s water breaks early in her pregnancy, most Catholic hospitals will not perform an abortion until after a fetal heartbeat is no longer detected, or the pregnant woman’s life is in imminent danger.
“I had no idea this could even happen,” said Mindy Swank, whose water broke in her second trimester, endangering her health. Her local hospital in Silvis, Ill., refused to remove the fetus for two months.

Was the baby alive or dead? It would help us to know that.

I wish the reporter had found a few people who actively seek out Catholic hospitals. For instance, I know women with problem pregnancies who were sick and tired of being told to abort a handicapped child or felt verbally assaulted by genetics counselors who advised them to abort some of the fetuses in a multiple pregnancy.

It’s no huge news that religious hospitals follow the protocols of their faith. Seventh-day Adventist hospitals don't serve meat in their cafeterias, but I don’t see folks complaining about enforced vegetarianism.

To be sure, the story nettled some Catholics who felt it was slanted against them and brought in a lot of anti-Catholic invective through the comments section. All of the Catholic sources were male; all of the people who had problems with these hospitals were female. What about a female Catholic source? And why quote an organization like the ACLU, which definitely has an ax to grind, without a response from a Catholic advocacy group or an interfaith religious-liberty think tank?

There was a lot of good information in this piece that I didn’t know, but the weighting of the quotes and the piling up of the alleged villainies of the nation’s Catholic hospital system made you wonder if the reporter had made up her mind about it all before she did her research. At least that's how it comes across. 

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