When Catholic Health Care Systems Own Your Doctor: The New Threat to Affordable Birth Control for Women

CatholicBishopsBy Elaine Magliaro

Patricia Miller has a chilling article over at Salon titled When the Catholic Church owns your doctor: The insidious new threat to affordable birth control. Miller’s article opens with a story about a woman named Angela Valavanis. According to Miller, Valavanis’s first bad encounter with the Catholic health care system happened just after she delivered her second child at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois. The Catholic hospital “refused to allow her OB/GYN to tie her tubes because of Catholic restrictions on the procedure.” When she went for a postpartum checkup with her OB/GYN, Valavanis asked about going back on the Pill because she hadn’t gotten the sterilization she wanted while she was in the hospital. That’s when “she got another shock.”

Valavanis said, “My doctor told me that she couldn’t prescribe birth control because she had sold her practice to a Catholic health system.” Valavanis said her “mouth dropped open.” She added, “I was so confused to hear those words coming out of the mouth of an OB/GYN.”


An OB/GYN who can’t prescribe birth control? It’s not some bad joke. It could be a reality if your doctor’s practice is purchased by a Catholic health system that then imposes the Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a set of rules created by the U.S. Bishop’s Conference that prohibits doctors from doing everything from prescribing the Pill to performing sterilizations or abortions.

Miller noted that Valavanis’s “experience may be just the tip of the iceberg.” She said that health systems—which are a collection of hospitals and ancillary services—“are acquiring physician practices at an unprecedented rate.” She added, “The percentage of doctors who were employees of health systems increased from 20 percent to 26 percent between 2012 and 2013 alone; more than 40 percent of primary care doctors like OB/GYNs are now employed by health systems directly, and experts don’t see the trend slowing.”

According to Miller, Catholic hospital systems account for eight of the 10 largest nonprofit health systems in this country. She said that these hospital systems “are poised to become major owners of doctors’ offices, which could severely impede access to contraceptives if doctors are forced to follow the Directives.’

Lorie Chaiten, director of the Illinois ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project, cautioned, “The more we see these Catholic systems buying up these practices, the more we are going to see what Angela saw.” Chaiten noted that “such refusals are legal under Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act.” Chaiten added, “Angela went to the same provider for 15 years and all of the sudden she couldn’t get birth control. This could have a huge impact on women.”

Presence Health, the largest system in Illinois, is reportedly “also prohibiting doctors from providing contraceptives.” Miller said that “Presence was created by the merger of two smaller Catholic systems, Resurrection Health Care, which was the system that bought Angela’s doctor’s practice, and Provena Health.” According to Miller, Presence Health currently “owns 11 hospitals and dozens of doctor’s offices.”


These health systems are merging, and gobbling up doctors’ practices, because of incentives in the ACA for systems to coordinate care across the range of services that patients need, from doctor’s visits to in-patient hospital procedures, and because of health care economics, that make it prohibitively expensive for doctors to maintain solo practices.

Asked directly whether its doctors in Evanston and elsewhere in Illinois were prevented from providing contraception, Presence said in a statement, “We abide by the Ethical & Religious Directives, and there are certain services which we do not provide. It is our expectation that all physicians associated with Presence Saint Francis Hospital share with their patients the options that are available in accessing the care they seek.”

BTW, after Valavanis’s OB/GYN refused to give her a prescription for birth control pills, her husband told his doctor he wanted to get a vasectomy. Guess what happened?

His doctor, who was also part of the Catholic system, said his practice couldn’t do the procedure or make a referral.

Angela Valavanis said, “The whole situation is so unbelievable to me. I had no idea these limitations occurred. When I tell my friends about it, they say it’s medieval. We have to worry that if they keep buying up all these practices, it will get harder and harder to find someone who can prescribe birth control.”


When the Catholic Church owns your doctor: The insidious new threat to affordable birth control (Salon)


Comedian Amy Schumer Responds to Birth Control Debate with Hilarious Prescription Ad Parody (Flowers for Socrates)

The Vagina Vigilantes Strike Again!: Republican Members of the House of Representatives Vote to Strike Down D.C. Law That Bans Reproductive Discrimination (Flowers for Socrates)

Catholic Bishops and Religious Rights vs. Women’s Rights…and Women’s Health (Flowers for Socrates)

Science, Conception, SCOTUS, Corporate Personhood, and Some Facts about the Four Contraceptives at the Center of the Hobby Lobby Case…with a Mark Fiore Video (Flowers for Socrates)

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14 Responses to When Catholic Health Care Systems Own Your Doctor: The New Threat to Affordable Birth Control for Women

  1. bettykath says:

    Another step toward the Middle Ages.

  2. Elaine M. says:


    Do Bishops Run Your Hospital?
    The Catholic Church is making health care decisions for more and more Americans—whether they know it or not.
    —By Stephanie Mencimer
    Mother Jones
    | November/December 2013 Issue

    One morning in November 2010, an ambulance brought a woman who was 15 weeks pregnant to the emergency room at Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, 70 miles outside Tucson, Arizona. She had been carrying twins and had miscarried one at home in the bathtub. The chances of the second fetus making it were “minuscule,” Dr. Robert Holder, the OB-GYN on call that day, later recalled in an affidavit. He told the woman and her husband that trying to continue the pregnancy would put her at risk of severe bleeding and infection. In short, she needed an emergency abortion.

    But there was a problem: Sierra Vista was in the midst of a trial merger with a Catholic hospital company, Carondelet Health Network, which required its doctors to abide by the church’s ethical and religious directives. Hospital administrators told Holder that because the surviving fetus still had a heartbeat, he could not perform an abortion. Holder had to send the patient to a hospital in Tucson—a three-hour delay that he believed put her at risk for life-threatening complications.

    The doctors at Sierra Vista aren’t the only ones to struggle with submitting their medical decisions to a higher authority. A growing number of patients are finding their health care options governed by the church’s guidelines as Catholic hospitals, long major players in the health care market, have been on a merger streak, acquiring everything from local hospital systems to medical practices, nursing homes, and health insurance plans.

    Between 2001 and 2011, the number of American hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church grew 16 percent, even as the number of public hospitals and secular nonprofit hospitals dropped 31 percent and 12 percent, respectively, according to an upcoming report by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch, a nonprofit that tracks religious health care mergers. In 2012, Catholic hospitals and health care systems were involved in 24 mergers or acquisitions, according to Irving Levin Associates, a market research firm. Ten of the 25 largest nonprofit hospital systems in the country are Catholic, and Catholic hospitals care for 1 in 6 American patients. In at least eight states, 30 percent or more of patient admissions are at Catholic facilities.

    Catholic hospitals are required to follow health care directives handed down by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—a group of celibate older men who have become increasingly conservative over the past few decades. (Recall the bishops’ ongoing showdown with the White House over Obamacare’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception.) The issues go far beyond abortion. The bishops’ directives restrict how doctors in Catholic hospitals may treat everything from miscarriages to terminal illness. How this treatment differs from that of secular hospitals is not always disclosed to patients.

    “When you go into a hospital or an ER, you do not think that there’s a bishop between you and your doctor,” says Linda McCarthy, CEO of a Planned Parenthood branch in western Washington. In 2010, Peter Sartain, a prominent bishop recently enlisted by the church to crack down on nuns deemed too liberal, was appointed to the Seattle diocese. Not long afterward, he told the Catholic hospital in McCarthy’s area to stop performing lab work for Planned Parenthood that the hospital had handled for at least a decade, including tests unrelated to abortion, such as cholesterol screenings. McCarthy publicized the demand and the hospital backed off, for the time being.

    “The Catholic bishops are seizing an opportunity to control the health care we all pay for, and they’re being wildly successful,” says Monica Harrington, the co-chair of Washington Women for Choice. A spate of proposed deals could leave Catholic facilities accounting for 50 percent of the state’s hospital admissions. “We could very well end up with three conservative bishops overseeing health care for 6 million people,” McCarthy says.

  3. Harvey says:

    My only hope is that these mergers and the Church interference in the practice of medicine will prove to be a great overreach and their plan will crash and burn before their piggy little eyes.

  4. Elaine M. says:

    How the rise of Catholic hospitals is jeopardizing women’s healthcare

    Via Nina Martin of ProPublica comes word that America’s Catholic bishops are moving toward tightening religious restrictions on physicians and nonsectarian hospitals that join with them in mergers and partnerships.

    This can’t be good news for anyone concerned about the state of women’s healthcare. That’s where medical practice and Catholic doctrine are most frequently in conflict. And it’s happening as Catholic hospitals are playing a more influential role in the American healthcare system.

    The Affordable Care Act encourages and facilitates hospital mergers; many of these deals involve Catholic health systems as dominant partners. A joint study last December by the MergerWatch Project and the ACLU reported that 10 of the nation’s largest hospital systems were Catholic-sponsored in 2011. From 2001 to 2011, the study found, the number of beds in Catholic hospitals rose by 13%, the largest such change of any category of hospital except the for-profit sector. In Washington state, one quarter of all hospitals are Catholic-affiliated, and in some communities around the country, patients have no other choice.

    None of this would matter if the church did not try to impose religious directives on the practice of medicine. But that’s what it has been doing. Doctors and patients in Orange County saw the process in action last year, after Newport Beach’s Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, one of Orange County’s leading medical centers, merged with St. Joseph Health System, a Catholic chain.

    Despite being assured for months that nothing in their medical practice would change as a result of the deal, Hoag doctors were abruptly informed in May 2013 that abortions would henceforth be banned — a restriction imposed at St. Joseph’s insistence.

    The MergerWatch/ACLU report and other sources document numerous instances of interference by religious prelates in medical decisions, especially those in which emergency terminations of pregnancies are indicated to save the mother. In Bartlesville, Okla., doctors at a hospital acquired by a Catholic system were forbidden to prescribe any contraceptives, if they were to be used as birth control. (After the rule provoked a public outcry, it was rescinded.)

  5. bettykath says:

    We have legislators and now Catholic bishops practicing medicine without a license. We need some medical board to start objecting. Or maybe we need some Attorneys General to start prosecutions. What would happen if I were to start practicing medicine without a license. It probably wouldn’t go well for me.

  6. Elaine M. says:


    Women have always been regarded as second-class citizens in the Catholic Church–as they are in many religions…and also by many politicians in this country.

  7. Tommy Tune says:

    Keep raising that flag and some women might salute it. The War on Women flag should be shaped like a vagina. You may not know this but many young hipster women shave those beavers so have that vagina flag Telly Savalas style.

  8. Bob Kauten says:

    I see that you’re obsessed with flagging poles, like your own.
    It’s quite evident that you’ve never seen a beaver, shaven or not.
    For your edification, the shaved beaver:

  9. pete says:

    “The War on Women flag should be shaped like a vagina.”


    derp; A simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is made. Brought to life in the South Park series, when Mr. Derp made a guest apperance at South Park Elementary as the chef for a day, followed by hitting himself in the head with a hammer and exclaiming “Derp!”

  10. Elaine M. says:


    Make that a double derp for me!


  11. bettykath says:


  12. Bob Kauten says:

    Aw, hell…no joy!
    The little troll buzzed off.
    I was just gettin’ started.

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  14. John Von says:

    Wow what story, I got chills. My wife got sick in pregnancy while we were at her sister, the reason was some kind of cyst. She has separated physical and mental health even though she is a Catholic and after a brief medical intervention she gave birth to my son two month later. Both of them are healthy and well…

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