When hospitals impose their religious beliefs on their patients to deny healthcare, patients lose. Religious hospitals have refused to provide care ranging from birth control to in vitro fertilization and have refused to honor patients’ wishes regarding ventilators and feeding tubes. And women are especially at risk when hospitals put religious beliefs above their health in an emergency. At hospitals that abide by religious directives around the country, women suffering miscarriages have been denied treatment and information about their options.
On Monday night, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee squarely took on this issue (as only Sam Bee can), focusing on Catholic hospital systems and their religious restrictions on reproductive healthcare. This problem isn’t just theoretical. According to a report published in May by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch, one out of six hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic healthcare institution, putting lifesaving medical care that requires the termination of a pregnancy or contraception at risk.
“The problem is the most acute in areas where patients have no choice and where physicians are limited in where they can practice,” said Lois Uttley, the director of MergerWatch, in an interview with Rewire. “We hear from doctors, for example, who are practicing in rural areas of western states where there is only a Catholic hospital and these doctors have patients who desperately need a tubal ligation at the time of delivery.”
These doctors often find themselves frustrated with their inability to provide necessary care.
"I wasn't allowed to offer tubal ligations. I wasn't allowed offer contraception," said Dr. Rupa Natarajan, a former resident OB-GYN at a Catholic hospital interviewed by Full Frontal. "And this is including women that had high-risk medical conditions where they should not be getting pregnant again."
To compound the problem, a MergerWatch report from July reveals only 10 states require any governmental review before hospital systems can merge and eliminate much-needed health services. Because of this lack of oversight, religious hospitals can swallow up secular institutions and impose religiously motivated restrictions without warning.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, but it does not give hospitals a right to discriminate or harm others. When religion is used as a justification to deny healthcare, it’s discriminatory, puts patients’ health and well-being in jeopardy, and can cause catastrophic harm to those critically in need of care. No one should be denied care because of someone else's religious beliefs. If you have been denied access to health services on the basis of religion, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.