Catholic hospital mergers could impact abortions

Unsurprisingly, some in the pro-choice camp find that prospect alarming.

From the New York Times:

Politicians seeking to restrict access to abortion, a marked trend this year from North Dakota to Arkansas, tend not to get much traction in this part of the country.

Washington is heavily Democratic, leaning left especially on social issues. A majority of voters even put into law a statutory right to abortion in 1970 — the only state ever to do that. The governor, Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is pushing the Legislature even now to pass a law at a special session on Monday requiring health insurers to pay for elective abortions, another first for the state if it makes it to Mr. Inslee’s desk.

But now a wave of proposed and completed mergers between secular and Roman Catholic hospitals, which are barred by church doctrine from performing procedures that could harm the unborn, is raising the prospect that unelected health care administrators could go where politicians could not.

The merger wave is mirrored around the country, driven by the shifting economic landscape in health care and the looming changes in federal regulation. Previous Catholic takeovers in Kentucky, Illinois and Pennsylvania have made news and drawn scrutiny.

The concentration of mergers here, through happenstance and history — Catholic nuns arrived in Washington with the first waves of settlers in the 1850s — is particularly pronounced. If all the proposed religious and secular combinations go through, almost half of the hospital beds in the state — the highest percentage in the nation, and up from less than a third at the beginning of last year — would be controlled by the Catholic health systems, according to Merger Watch, a nonprofit group in New York that tracks hospitals.

Another wrinkle is that many Washingtonians are not that keen on religion to start with. A poll by Gallup conducted throughout 2012 put the state at 12th from the bottom in percentage of people who described themselves as “very religious.” It is also one of only two states — Oregon is the other — where voters have approved a physician-assisted suicide law for terminally ill people. Centuries of Catholic teaching hold suicide as a mortal sin.

“You happen to be the hot zone,” Sarah A. Dunne, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said on a recent evening to a group of 75 or so residents here in Mount Vernon who are opposing the mergers.

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