Kathleen Prieskorn was three months pregnant and working as a waitress when she realized she was having her second miscarriage. She rushed to her doctor’s office where, as she tells writer Molly M. Ginty at Ms. Magazine, she learned her amniotic sac had torn.
Prieskorn lives in Manchester, New Hampshire with her husband. The nearest hospital had recently merged with a Catholic hospital so her doctor could not help her complete her miscarriage.
“… because my doctor could still detect a fetal heartbeat, he wasn’t allowed to give me a uterine evacuation that would help me complete my miscarriage.”
To get someone to perform the procedure, the poor woman had to drive eighty miles to a hospital that would perform the procedure. Prieskorn has no car and no health insurance, so an expensive ambulance trip was out of the question. Instead, as Ginty reports, Prieskorn’s doctor gave her $400 of his own cash and put her in a cab.
I am dumbfounded. How could a hospital turn away someone who might die? What about the Hippocratic Oath? Making a bleeding woman drive eighty miles for help is certainly unethical. But religion trumps ethics, I guess? How is this happening in America? Is this the new perversion of freedom of religion?
“During that trip, which seemed endless, I was not only devastated, but terrified,” Prieskorn tells Ginty. “I knew that if there were complications I could lose my uterus—and maybe even my life.”
It could happen to you. It could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. You don’t have to be Catholic to end up at a Catholic hospital. In fact, one of the nearest hospitals to me is a Catholic hospital. God forbid I have to go there in an emergency situation that goes against their religion.
It’s happening all the time to women everywhere. According to Ginty, “Catholic institutions have became the largest not-for-profit source of healthcare in America, treating 1 in 6 hospital patients.” The Catholic hospitals have to follow Ethical and Religious Directives that are issued by the 258 member U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Oh goody. So the religious beliefs of a bunch of men (probably all old, white men who are, of course, celibate) are dictating the reproductive health care millions of women receive? And, as in Prieskorn’s case, forcing life-threatening situations that are at odds with what hospitals were created to do in the first place? You know, like, SAVE LIVES regardless of stuff like race and religion? Apparently so. The Catholic hospitals are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services and those ultra conservative rules are issued by the 258-member U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Because of the directives, doctors and nurses at Catholic-affiliated facilities are not allowed to perform procedures that the Catholic Church deems “intrinsically immoral, such as abortion and direct sterilization.” Those medical personnel also cannot give rape survivors drugs to prevent pregnancy unless there is “no evidence that conception has already occurred.” The only birth control they can dispense is advice about “natural family planning”— laborious daily charting of a woman’s basal temperature and cervical mucus in order to abstain from sex when she is ovulating—which only 0.1 percent of women use. The Catholic directives involve not just abortion and birth control but ectopic pregnancies, embryonic stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, sterilizations and more.
Ginty details several situations during which women were denied crucial treatment. In 2009 a 27-year-old, 11-weeks pregnant patient in Arizona “staggered into the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix with such severe pulmonary hypertension that her doctors determined she would die without an immediate abortion.” Because of the severity of the situation the ethics committee voted to break hospital policy and advise the woman of her option of a lifesaving abortion. She decided to do it, but the bishop overseeing the Phoenix diocese heard about the situation and said St. Joseph’s could no longer be a Catholic institution unless it agreed to follow Catholic “moral teachings.” He excommunicated a nun and said they could no longer hold Catholic Mass in the hospital’s chapel.
Another Arizona woman went to the ER of a Catholic hospital while miscarrying one of her twin babies. But she was sent to another hospital after doctors refused to help her, saying the fetus was alive, although not viable The incidents are piling up. Doctors at a Catholic institution in New York allegedy refused to terminate an ectopic pregnancy even though the embryo could not possibly survive where it attached outside the woman’s uterus.
How is this happening? How are women being denied essential medical care? Ginty answers some of those questions in her most excellent article and it should come as no surprise to any woman that George W. Bush had a hand in things, mucking up the works.
The debacle starts with anti-choice legislation. The U.S. Congress started to pass “conscience clauses” pushed by the Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion forces in the immediate wake of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. Today, these laws apply not only to physicians and nurses who oppose abortion, but to entire institutions whose “consciences” allow them to withhold medically indicated care.
In 2008 the George W. Bush administration issued regulations giving healthcare workers the right to refuse
to take part in any procedure that “violates” their religious beliefs. The Obama administration moved to reverse this policy in February but 47 states and the District of Columbia now allow individuals or entities to refuse women reproductive health services, information or referrals.
What do you think? Should Catholic hospitals retain the right to refuse healthcare? Or should they be required to help anyone needing care? Should religions even be able to open hospitals? What would Jesus do? I think that answer is obvious, what about you?
Miscarriages and Expectant Fathers: How does this affect men?