Catholic Business Takes over Hospitals and Orders Affiliated Doctors to Stop Prescribing Birth Control

Wednesday, April 02, 2014
(AP photo)

A small town in Oklahoma has discovered what other communities across the United States have found once their hospital is bought by an ever-growing Catholic medical enterprise: Patients can’t get birth control.


Bartlesville, with a population of about 36,000, has only one hospital: Jane Phillips Medical Center (JPMC). In April 2013, JPMC became part of Ascension Health, a St. Louis-based Catholic business that owns more than 100,000 facilities, including hospitals, in 22 states and the District of Columbia.


As part of this mammoth health-care provider, JPMC received a directive from Ascension executives stating all doctors working for or affiliated with the Bartlesville hospital could no longer prescribe birth control to women.


The order was passed on to gynecologists and obstetricians last week, and word quickly spread to patients about the ban on contraception.


Some women voiced concerns about the new rule, worrying how they were going to obtain birth control going forward.


“I personally find it infuriating that restrictions on birth control, and especially IUDs, are being forced upon our doctors,” one woman who asked not to be identified told the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. “My health care decisions should be up to me and not based on the religious beliefs of others. Those decisions should be made based upon what is best for me and my family.


“I do not think a religiously affiliated hospital system is good for Bartlesville,” she added. “We have one hospital and when that hospital refuses services that almost half the population wants, due to its religious beliefs, it forces money to leave Bartlesville.”


Ascension’s directive apparently contains a loophole whereby doctors can prescribe birth control as long as the patient does not use it to avoid getting pregnant.


Another woman who wished to remain anonymous told the local newspaper: “I was told that my physician has been instructed that they can no longer write prescriptions for birth control as birth control. This effects [sic] me because I take birth control as birth control. There are other ways to receive birth control, for example headaches, cramps, excessive bleeding — but I have none of those symptoms.”


The woman said it was her understanding that she could claim she had these other problems to get the contraception.


But, she insisted, “I have no desire to stretch the truth or fabricate a reason. This is between me and my physician. This is about MY health care. Why should we have to commit borderline insurance fraud because I want to maintain my health care?”


The only other option for these women would be to go outside the JPMC network. But there is only one OB-GYN in Bartlesville not affiliated with the hospital (Dr. Robert D. Oliver).


What has happened in Bartlesville is occurring elsewhere across the United States. During the last three years there have been 20 instances in which financially strong Catholic medical organizations have partnered with or acquired smaller secular hospitals, which often results in policies that ban or restrict access to such treatments as contraception, sterilization and abortion.


Another example is Seattle-based Swedish Health Services which, in February 2012, merged with Providence Health & Services, one of the largest Catholic medical groups in the U.S. Swedish offered abortion services for decades but had to discontinue them when Providence took over.


Although more of these arrangements are reportedly in the works, resistance has been building among the public. Citizens of Rockford, Illinois, opposed a plan by OSF HealthCare, operated by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, to purchase a hospital due to OSF’s refusal to perform tubal ligation following Caesarean section. And Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear prevented Catholic Health Initiatives from merging with a Louisville hospital in part due to restrictions that would be imposed on women’s access to contraceptive services.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

JPMC Doctors No Longer Allowed To Prescribe Birth Control (by Kelli Williams, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise)

Catholic Hospitals Expand, Religious Strings Attached (by Reed Abelson, New York Times)

Miscarriage of Medicine (MergerWatch Project and American Civil Liberties Union) (pdf)

Hospital Abortion Ban Was Linked to New Catholic Partner Despite Denials (by Ken Broder, AllGov)


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