ACLU Concerned That Catholic-based Hospital Takeovers Will Put Patients in Jeopardy

The Washington state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has stepped up to the plate to defend citizens against Catholic health care organizations that would impose their religious dogma on non-Catholic patients.

Joining ten other groups concerned with health care advocacy or civil liberties, the ACLU sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee (PDF), requesting a moratorium on hospital mergers until a “community health needs assessment” can investigate the impact of an institution’s religious affiliation on the availability of legal and medically appropriate care. The letter notes that all Catholic-run medical institutions are required to comply with the USCCB’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which prohibit contraceptive use, sterilization, and abortion, as well as most types of assisted reproduction.

Inslee’s office says that staffers are currently reviewing the letter before bringing it to his desk, but notes that Inslee is “concerned for what these mergers could mean for women’s health care coverage.”

But it’s not just women who stand to be affected by church-based mergers. In a local radio interview, Doug Honig, a spokesperson for the Washington ACLU, spoke clearly about what’s at stake for all patients in the state as well as their families:

Our concern is that when secular hospitals merge with religious corporations, the result is that the health care facility will have to follow the religious dogma. That can limit the access of patients to medically appropriate and lawful procedures, specifically end-of-life care, reproductive health care, and it can affect care for lesbian, gay, and transsexual people.

According to national advocacy organization MergerWatch, which is dedicated to keeping medical care free of religious coercion directed at patients, notes that 40% of hospital beds in Washington are currently managed by church-affiliated groups. If all pending hospital mergers go through, that number will be up to 45% by year’s end.

This represents a dramatic trend towards increasing Church involvement in health care; just three years ago in 2010, only 26% of the state’s hospital beds were in Catholic-affiliated hospitals. Economic pressures are forcing hospital mergers across the country, and many of these mergers bring Catholic religious dogma into formerly secular hospital environments. Consolidation saves money, Honig notes, and that’s a good thing… but not if it happens at the expense of patients’ rights:

We’re not opposed to hospital consolidations and mergers at all. What we do want is for state leadership to get involved to make sure that as we have consolidations, people’s access to lawful procedures and medically appropriate care is not compromised.

Unfortunately, these mergers have limited the options for patients in other states and there’s no reason to believe patients will get the best possible care in Washington if they go through here.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • griffox

    Are Catholic Hospitals “For profit”? I really don’t understand how they can take people’s money for a service, but force them to comply with their religious stipulations.

    • JET

      I think they are classified by the IRS as either charitable or non-profit organizations under the 501(c)(3) rules.

      • baal

        Do they comply with disclosure of finances or pull the ‘religous org no oversight’ card?

        • Mairianna

          Hospitals can be 501 (c) (3) without having a religious affiliation. I work for one.

          • griffox

            Does that mean that people get tax deductions for spending money there?

    • Stev84

      Catholic hospitals are large corporations just like other hospital companies.

  • Manoj

    Does anyone know if Kaiser Permanente is religiously affiliated?

    • SirReal

      I can’t find anything that would suggest it is religiously affiliated. In fact, in Denver, when Catholics acquired 2 of the local hospitals, KP vowed to provide whatever services patients might be denied due to the new owners.

    • Bill

      No, it is not.

    • Beth

      In Ohio CHP just acquired Kaiser Permanente

  • John_in_Vegas

    There is a Jewish medical center on New York’s Long Island that has a designated elevator that stops on every floor on Saturdays because some small percentage of people are not allowed to push buttons on that day of the week. It is truly frightening to think about what other superstitious activities might be going on.

  • Miss_Beara

    My hospital:

    “… is to serve the health needs of individuals, families and communities through wholistic philosophy rooted in our fundamental understanding of human beings as created in the image of God. All human beings live under God’s care and must be treated with dignity and respect.”

    It doesn’t say it is a Catholic based hospital, just a lot of God talk. My doc did prescribe me bc so maybe they are not Catholic? I am planning on asking my doctor this soon. I need to know that my health and my body is ahead of religious dogma that I don’t follow and will never ever follow again.

  • SirReal

    There are no secular hospitals or doctors around my area. It appears all have signed on to the local Catholic hospitals. I hate just going to my doctor’s office because of all of the crosses and bible verses and quotes justifying religion posted all over the walls… hallways, offices, front desk… you can’t escape them. Luckily, one of their doctors, my PCP, is an atheist. Just happened to come up in conversation. :-) So at least I have that.

  • baal

    When they know they can’t win in the courts or the legislatures…we see stuff like this. Have churches own all the health care delivery and then they will have the power in fact to deny anything they don’t like (i.e. woman making choices about their own bodies). They will also have private org protections and a better (still flawed) case for excluding the courts or legislation from their ‘religious’ decisions. It’s sinister.

    • Sue Blue

      Exactly. Here in Washington state, supposedly a blue state, we have a “death with dignity” law that allows terminally ill patients to end their own lives at a time of their choosing. Same-sex marriage is legal. Abortion is legal and still fairly available. Yet, just recently, we had a case in a Seattle Catholic-affiliated hospital where a woman with a non-viable pregnancy was denied an emergency abortion. What point is there in having laws protecting patients’ rights to end-of-life decisions, abortions, birth control, and the right to have their same-sex partners at their bedside making decisions if they can be ignored or superseded by religious hospital policies? There have also been instances of providers ignoring DNR orders (POLST) in Catholic and other religious medical centers here. It’s just another way the religious have found to circumvent the 1st amendment. If they can’t legislate their “moral” views, they sneak them in through the corporate backdoor.

      As an RN, this just infuriates me.

    • The Inconsistent Atheist

      No one is stopping atheists from starting their own hospitals.

      But maybe they don’t care enough to bother.

      • baal

        Make your point again when the christians (or mormons for that matter) don’t have means to funnel billions to single organizations. They are doing it as a matter of religious strategy. It’s pure monopolist power use. Atheists do bother and hence the OP and comments here. Why you call yourself an atheist in your nym?

        • The Inconsistent Atheist

          Are you saying atheists aren’t smart enough or rich enough? Maybe they need to evolve into Christians.

          My name simply indicates that atheists are inconsistent. Their worldview contradicts itself.

          • baal

            I’m saying your nym falls into a standard naming style atheists use but you’re not an antheist (thanks for confirming). This falls into my ‘false labeling’ mental box.

            Smart has nothing to do with and yes the accumulated wealth of US atheists <<< the wealth of either christian orgs or christian totalitarians (koch bros etal). This is dispute having Gates and Buffet on our side of the ledger. And regardless of wealth, christians dominate in political power and use that to get approvals for xtians to buy hospitals.

  • L.Long

    I’m just waiting to hear about one of these catlicker hospitals to run into someone like me, meaning someone with NOTHING to loose!! My g’daughter goes in to get an abortion, they say NO WAY!!! and I’m thinking of how many knee caps will it take to get the job done. Or threaten the Doc to do the right thing, then he is not violating their stupid rules and they can’t fire him. Why do I have nothing to loose? My g’daughter is my future, I am dying, so what can they do to me after? Jail? Where I can get free medical care, room and food? That is a threat?

    No I do not advocate violence. I don’t even own a gun but just a while back a couple guys bombed Boston cuz they were feeling bad and were bored. And some religidiot will refuse to supply proper medical care to a loved one!! Talk about motivation! Please wake up and smell the reality, NOT supplying proper medical care for some imaginary reason is the same thing as ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Continuing on the path that catlickers have done in other countries will not end well.
    Sooner or later they will encounter the wrong person.

    • griffox

      comments like this do not help our reputation at all. I just spent two paragraphs explaining to a theist that not all Atheists use threats to make a point.

    • L.Long

      I need serious help?

      That’s right ‘shoot the messenger’ and the bad news disappears.

      Every post on this subject not one sees this problem. Or maybe they were afraid of criticism. I’m not only nonviolent, I’m a whoose(old fashion word for weakly geek), but even I can see this.

      I need help? Who has two very well documented cases of legalized murder of women on their record, me or the #$%@^@ theists?

      And to griffox—I was stating an obvious possibility, not a threat. It can’t be a threat because this could not happen to any member of my family.

  • The Inconsistent Atheist

    If you don’t want to go to a “religious” hospital, no one is stopping you from starting your own. Why is it that atheists want all the benefits of Christianity and yet deny its truth?

    • John_in_Vegas

      Throughout history, only Christianity benefited from Christianity, expanding through an unyielding tyrannical hierarchy to accumulate wealth and power. Its “truth” was an ancient mythology developed by superstitious desert nomads and passed down by the sword.

      My taxes subsidize these hospitals. I pay for their services through insurance and co-pays. I am entitled to medical experts to determine the best treatments available. I shouldn’t have to build my own medical center to receive healthcare based on modern scientific principles free from magic spells and incantations. The US Constitution guarantees that.

      • The Inconsistent Atheist

        The US Constitution does not guarantee that you are entitled to whatever you want. Tax subsidies are a problem with the government, not with the hospital.

        Like I said, if you don’t like the services offered at a religious hospital, start one of your own. Why is it that there aren’t atheist hospitals all over the place? Could it be because atheists don’t really care? Maybe they aren’t smart enough. Or maybe no one would trust them with their medical care since they believe life is random and meaningless.

        • John_in_Vegas

          Responding to my argument with an ad hominem attack does nothing to help you win yours. I think it makes you look rather foolish.

  • bobbydias

    Maybe NOT the Catholic Church involved in any particular situation. As an example: for some years a business named Catholic Healthcare West ran the Marian Medical Center here in Santa Maria,California. After some years they were finally forced to take the word “Catholic” out of their name- they changed it to Dignity Care. When they had the name with “Catholic” in it they did not go by what the Catholic Church teaches- that is why they were forced to remove “Catholic” from their name. The foundation that owns the building and the land it is on and the land around it is a non-religious organization. By the way, just because this happened at this one hospital, do not believe or disbelieve the ACLU on what they say is happening. There are some good people at the ACLU and there are some outright liars at the ACLU.

  • 1humanwoman

    Thank you for covering this. I have also blogged about the issue, including the ACLU lawsuit and the Means case in Michigan–you can read about it here: