Catholic hospitals and birth control


I'm glad Sen. Barbara Boxer, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Jeanne Shaheen, are supporting the Obama administration's decision to mandate contraceptive coverage at Catholic hospitals. I read the Wall Street Journal editorial denouncing it as an assault on religious freedom, and I think there's something that is too easily overlooked here.

Religious institutions like the Catholic Church are not just churches these days; they're major employers and the operators of major health-care facilities that are intertwined with insurance companies. And for a lot of employees and patients, there isn't any choice.

People who work for the hundreds of nonprofit social-service agencies run by the Catholic Church aren't necessarily Catholics, or even religious. They might be receptionists, or janitors, or computer systems operators, or counselors who needed a job and happened to get hired by an agency that needed their (secular) skills. Jobs are hard to come by these days; a person who works in an administrative job at a Catholic nonprofit and is trying to pay the rent and support a family may not have the option of simply leaving because she doesn't agreed with the Church's position on birth control. She's got a health plan paid for by her employer, just like most of the rest of us, and if that plan doesn't cover contraception, she's SOL. It's not fair.

My health-insurance plan recently decided not to do business any more with Brown and Toland medical group and instead contract with Hill Physicians. I had nothing to do with that decision, which was based on some financial negotiations around reimbursement rates that were entirely out of my control, part of an ongoing fight between major hospital groups, physician groups and insurance companies that leave patients entirely out of the loop.

So I had to leave the doctor I'd been seeing for many years (who was a member of Brown and Toland and affiliated with the Sutter-owned California Pacific Medical Center) and I was reassigned to a new doctor, who is a member of Hill -- and because of economic issues that have nothing to do with religion, my Hill doc is affiliated with Catholic Healthcare West. So now any major medical treatment I need is at St. Mary's, or St. Francis, or Seton -- all excellent hospitals, and I have no complaints. My new doctor is great, and frankly, the medical staff who are part of what happens to be a Catholic Church affiliated hospital chain aren't a whole lot different from the medical staff at the secular CPMC -- skillful, devoted, caring, and so far as I can tell, entirely free of any type of evangelism. I have no idea what, if any, religious affiliation the doctor who patched my broken hand back together last year had; it wasn't an issue. Who cares?

But still: It's a Catholic hospital chain. With all the issues that creates. And it's part of the city's public-health infrastructure. A lot of us didn't choose a religious-based medical center; our insurance company did that for us.

Catholic Healthcare West just changed its name to Dignity Health, apparently for marketing reasons (interesting that they chose the name of a longtime group of gay Catholics) but according to the group's website:

All of our Catholic hospitals, as well as those that may join the system at a later date, will continue to be Catholic and follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs).

Among the rules that guide those ERDs:

First, Catholic health care ministry is rooted in a commitment to promote and defend human dignity; this is the foundation of its concern to respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until death. ... Catholic health care does not offend the rights of individual conscience by refusing to provide or permit medical procedures that are judged morally wrong by the teaching authority of the Church.

I'm all for religious freedom. But under our current healthcare system, a lot of people have no choice as to their employer or their health-care system. And as long as that's the case, I don't see why the Church (which has to pay payroll tax on its employees and abide by the state's employment laws) shouldn't fall under the same health-insurance rules as everyone else.



Thank you Tim Redmond for your thoughtful comment about what is certainly a tempest in a teapot, made boiling by the usual suspects on the right, who would use any perceived wedge issue at their disposal to foment fear and blind hatred of the Obama administration.
Offering a service is not the same as taking/using it, and any good Catholic under a Church-funded health plan who wants to refuse to use contraceptive coverage certainly can.
If the Church-runded hospitals were open only to Catholics and staffed only by Catholics, that would be a different story, and closer to the "dire consequences" being cynically championed by Roadblock Republicans.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

I noticed the ellipsis in your quote, and that makes it grammatically correct, but it gives the impression that those two sentences are connected, when in fact there are four distinct points between the sentences separated by the ellipsis. There is a set of distinct ideas developed in that document that is distorted by your quote. But it IS grammatically correct.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2012 @ 7:42 am

Hey Tim,
This is not a religious freedom issue. I'm amazed that this concern is even being discussed as legitimate, because it's clearly just a ploy to deny women healthcare.

The heart of this issue is access to healthcare. We are seeing institutionalized sexism at it's ugliest - an all out war is being waged against a basic healthcare that only women use! Are vasectomies at stake here? What about Viagra? Nope, it's all about medications/procedures that WOMEN primarily use.

Where are women's voices in this discussion? Who is talking about our right to healthcare, who is talking to us?

Tomorrow, is a hearing on this very issue in Congress. Guess how many women speakers were invited by the anti-birth control coverage folks? ZERO. That's right, they don't think this is about women's healthcare.

Rep Darell Issa, head of this hearing said, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke (invited by Representatives in favor of birth control coverage) is not an appropriate witness.”

The anti-coverage crowd is framing this issue as a religious right - but it's also about freedom from religion. The inability of employees to determine their employers healthcare are put in place for exactly this kind of issue - no employee should be subjected to their employer's prejudices about healthcare.

Honestly, this is only strengthening the power of the 1%. Do people really believe that employers' religious beliefs should determine the employee's healthcare?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 7:11 pm


*The anti-coverage crowd is framing this issue as a religious right - but it's also about freedom from religion. The inability of employers to determine their employee's healthcare are put in place for exactly this kind of issue - no employee should be subjected to their employer's prejudices about healthcare.*

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

First, this isn't a right wing or left wing issue. The Catholic Church, unlike many, does not typically weigh-in on political issue or candidates. In general, more Catholics lean left. Second, it isn't a policy that has recently changed as some ploy against women. The Catholic church has never supported birth control, and has had an exemption (when the need arose), since 1973. Third, the folks who believe that the Catholic church has some issue with women's rights is uninformed. Fourth. The reality is that Catholic churches provide represent almost 20% of the hospitals in the US. They put these hospitals in areas that private companies do not want to operate. They perform many procedures and services, like breast screenings, that private hospitals no longer perform becasue they cannot make enough money. Catholic hosipitals administer disproportionally to the poor and needy. So when you read articles about government funding, what they refer to are the unsuplimented medicare dollars that Catholic hospitals take for treating the poor and elderly who no body else wants to treat.

The Church has held the same belief on contraception since it's existance. It does not try to regulate or inspire those who work for the hospital (Catholic or not), with regard to birth control. But becasue this is a tennant of the church, the church does not believe it should fund these activities. There is a big difference in the alternative, as someone suggested, which would be for the church to fund, and then allow people to make their own decisions.

So the political fallout of the new law is sad. The administration could care less about the small cost that the one million catholic healthcare workers (most of whom do not need or use contraception). It is a political issue to create controversy. But the Catholic church has to follow the rules of the faith. The outcome could be much more substantial than the cost that Catholic employees pay for birth control (and have every year since they were hired). Will those of you that are outraged be happy if Catholic hospitals quit providing health care altogether and let everyone get on the government plan? Or what if they decide to just close a few hospitals.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 11:39 am

It will come to pass the the Catholic church will be forced to close all it's medical facilities. Either the government can take them over, or millions will be unemployed.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

i think that all people that want to use birth control should pay for it by them selves
We the people should not have to supply these things if we do not believe in them.
them represenitives in capital hill need to consider all the people not the few.
gay marriage is wrong as the church said why do you think a man and a
woman are built differant .a man is a man and a woman is a woman.
this is not right to force your view down peoples ways.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 8:51 am