Religious Hospital Mergers: Hazardous to Your Health?

  Image by Getty Images

Image by Getty Images

A new MergerWatch report 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 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. When religious hospitals take over secular facilities, provision of reproductive-health and end-of-life care is often severely restricted. Unfortunately, community members are unlikely to learn that their local hospital will no longer meet all their health needs until it’s too late to oppose the merger.

Not only are religiously motivated healthcare refusals unfair—after all, patients should receive care that matches their personal beliefs, not their doctors’—but these refusals can be downright dangerous.

A physician at a secular Arizona hospital, which partnered with a religious health system, witnessed staff deny a patient miscarriage treatment when the nearest alternative hospital was nearly 100 miles away. And Michigan resident Tamesha Means sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after a hospital acting under Catholic directives thrice turned her away from the emergency room rather than provide emergency pre-viability abortion care. Tamesha’s water broke 18 weeks into her pregnancy and her fetus had virtually no chance of survival, but she still endured extreme pain without medical help and contracted a preventable infection over the course of three hospital visits because the hospital repeatedly denied her care.

When hospitals impose their religious beliefs on others, patients lose. And when the government turns a blind eye to hospital mergers that reduce access to essential health services, entire communities lose. Americans United believes that a person’s access to care should not turn on someone else’s religion. That’s why we’ve been hard at work in court houses, state legislatures, and Congress to ensure that religion is not used to harm others by denying them healthcare options. If you have been denied access to health services on the basis of religion, contact us at