By: Joshua Gill
- FiveThirtyEight claimed Catholic hospitals endanger women and the poor by not providing “standard medical service” like abortion, sterilization and gender transition
- Catholic hospitals actually provide medical care to impoverished communities that otherwise could not afford care
- The only procedures barred by Catholic hospitals are those that unnaturally end or prevent the creation of life
A FiveThirtyEight article lambasted Catholic bishops and hospitals for their refusal to perform contraceptive and transgender procedures, despite providing affordable medical care for impoverished communities.
The article entitled “How Catholic Bishops Are Shaping Health Care In Rural America” asserted that Catholic hospitals are callously endangering women in communities where the only available hospital is a Catholic hospital, due to Catholic restrictions on abortion, contraceptives, sterilization and transgender procedures. The hospitals in question, however, operate in poorer areas to provide medical care to communities that cannot afford for-profit hospitals, in accordance with Catholic social teaching on the dignity of human life and caring for the poor.
Were there no Catholic nonprofit hospitals in those communities, the women that FiveThirtyEight claims Catholics are endangering would be further endangered by having to travel farther for all emergency medical procedures, if they were capable of traveling at all, instead of just the procedures that Catholic doctrine bars.
The article also asserts that, with the expansion of Catholic health care across the nation due in part to hospital mergers, Catholic bishops limit access to certain procedures limited for the poor in other areas as well. FiveThirtyEight argued that this has been exacerbated by legal protections for religious medical practitioners.
“But even decades before the Trump administration moved to roll back Obamacare policies, some religious hospitals — in particular, Catholic hospitals — already had the green light from the government to deny certain treatment options to their patients,” the article states. “These hospitals’ right to refuse care is generally unquestioned, creating a dilemma for the people who walk in the door: What happens when you need or want a standard medical service, but the hospital won’t provide it?”
According to FiveThirtyEight, standard medical service includes “abortion, birth control, vasectomies, tubal ligations, some types of end-of-life care, emergency contraception and procedures related to gender transition.”
The fact that Catholic doctrine forbids abortion and birth control is well known, but less than one percent of all abortions are considered necessary to save the mother’s life, according to available data.
As for the types of end-of-life care barred in Catholic hospitals, Catholic health care does provide hospice, in accordance with the Catholic belief in caring for an individual from conception to their natural end of life. “Natural end” is the operative phrase, as Catholic hospitals will not perform euthanasia or medically assisted suicide. The article adds:
“In a growing number of communities around the country, especially in rural areas, patients and physicians have access to just one hospital. And in more and more places, that hospital is Catholic. That sounds innocuous — a hospital is a hospital, after all. But Catholic hospitals are bound by a range of restrictions on care that are determined by religious authorities, with very little input from medical staff. Increasingly, where a patient lives can determine whether Catholic doctrine, and how the local bishop interprets that doctrine, will decide what kind of care she can get.”
Most of the procedures and medications that the article puts forward as examples of practices that are forbidden by Catholic hospitals are most often associated with ending or preventing the creation of life, for example: abortion, birth control and sterilization. For this, the author demonizes Catholic health care as “impeding the availability and quality of reproductive care,” citing specific examples in which further pregnancies had a higher chance of endangering women because of past medical complications.
The express purpose of Catholic hospitals, however, is not to limit the options of women and the poor, or to endanger them, but rather to give them affordable options they otherwise would not have. Catholic hospitals, in fact, arose in the late 19th century in response to the unmet needs of the poor and continue to seek to fulfill the needs of the poor today, with Catholic medical practitioners sometimes risking their lives to do so.
The Catholic health ministry is the largest provider of nonprofit health care in the U.S., caring for approximately one in six hospital patients across the country and focusing on communities and people groups identified as poor or especially vulnerable.
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