Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach has a webpage that helps people in need of abortion and family planning assistance—by directing them to other facilities. Hoag banned elective abortions at the facility, effective last May, after merging with St. Joseph Health Systems, a Catholic healthcare provider.
The ban surprised women's health care advocates and the ensuing protests triggered an investigation by the state Attorney General's office in June. The AG had signed off on the merger a few months before. Last week, Attorney General Kamala Harris told hospital administrators they could ignore a pledge to doctors that abortion policy would not change and pretty much keep their referral page as is.
Doctors at Hoag were shocked early last year to find out abortion was being banned despite assurances to the contrary that they had been given for months leading up to the merger. Officials said they made the decision because the hospital did few abortions—less than 100 a year—and it was not economical or safe for them to continue the under-equipped service.
The doctors disputed all of that. They said the number of abortions was significantly above 100 and that they were well-equipped to care for patients with complicating factors. Banning abortions was not going to make the hospital's patients safer, they argued:
“Instead of being cared for by her own doctor during an emotionally traumatizing period, Hoag will step into the patient-doctor relationship and require that the patient go elsewhere for care, creating unnecessary delay and potentially added cost and worry for the patient. This is not only inhumane and inefficient—it is bad medicine.”
The attorney general signed off on the deal last year knowing about the abortion ban, and the review just completed didn't alter that. But the original deal contained assurances from Hoag that other reproductive health services, such as tubal litigations, which St. Joseph Health disapproves of, would continue at Hoag for 10 years.
The new deal extends that voluntary promise to 20 years.
Hoag said it will continue to perform abortions related to miscarriages, the death of fetuses and those needed to protect the health of the mother. Doctors can continue to perform abortions in their private offices, even if those offices are in buildings owned by the hospital, according to the Orange County Register.
The Hoag controversy unfolds against a backdrop of change nationwide in hospital ownership. Catholic medical institutions have been extending their reach in recent years and serve 1 in 6 patients nationally. That can be problematic in blue states like California, which lacks the legal abortion restrictions found in other states, like waiting periods, limitations on public funds and mandated parental involvement.
St. Joseph Health operates five medical centers in Southern California and Hoag has two hospitals and some clinics.