Wisconsin court: Catholic hospitals cannot discriminate against doctors who perform abortions

Details from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 

Plans by three Catholic hospital systems in Wisconsin to deny admitting privileges to doctors who perform abortions would “be in active violation of federal law,” Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen’s Department of Justice said in a court filing last week.

Federal law “provides that hospitals accepting federal funds may not discriminate against a physician because that physician has participated in or refused to participate in abortions,” the state Justice Department said in its filing in federal court.

According to experts on federal law, if doctors can prove they were not granted privileges specifically because they perform the procedure, the hospital systems — Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Columbia St. Mary’s Health System and Hospital Sisters Health System — could lose federal dollars in the form of research and public health grants.

Doctors who perform abortions would be required to obtain privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinics under a new law that has been blocked until at least November by a federal judge. Seven doctors who provide abortions in the state lack privileges, and at least four are applying for them at religiously affiliated hospitals, according to their employer, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

The hospitals said they would not grant privileges to abortion providers, following confusion over their stance in federal court. In the abortion providers’ challenge to the law, their attorneys said the privileges requirement would be especially difficult to meet because a large proportion of Wisconsin hospitals are religiously affiliated and opposed to abortion.

But Matthew Lee, a doctor on the credentials committee at Wheaton Franciscan St. Joseph campus in Milwaukee, initially told the court he believed religiously affiliated hospitals in the state would be open to granting privileges to doctors who perform abortions.

One week later, the chief medical officer for Wheaton Franciscan said her organization would not grant privileges to abortion providers, suggesting that Lee might not have fully understood the hospital’s policies. A spokeswoman for Columbia St. Mary’s said her organization had the same policy and, days later, so did the president and chief executive officer of the Hospital Sisters system.

All three hospital systems cited their Catholic affiliations as the reason why they would deny privileges to abortion providers.

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