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March 5, 2012

Who’s the boss in birth control debate?

Rixey Browning

While the healthcare debate has been resolved, and all women can now get access to birth control through their employers’ insurance plan, regardless of religious background, a new issue has arisen.


As more Catholic and secular hospitals merge, more women are denied the contraceptive and other reproductive care they have a right to have, simply due to the religious beliefs of the institution.


It is stunning that the Roman Catholic Church can determine the care they are willing or unwilling to provide. In some cases, life-saving procedures have been denied to women in Catholic hospitals because the treatment conflicted with church teachings and beliefs.


In one particularly concerning case, a New Hampshire woman was miscarrying, but her local hospital refused to perform the uterine evacuation to complete the miscarriage. The patient then had to travel 80 miles in a cab to the nearest hospital that would perform the procedure, as an ambulance would have been too expensive for her. Complications with leaving a miscarriage uncompleted could involve the patient losing her uterus or her life.


Roman Catholic-affiliated hospitals must adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The services denied include abortion and sterilization. These hospitals also refuse to give rape victims drugs to prevent pregnancy. The only birth control advice they are allowed to give is on “natural family planning” – tedious daily charting of a woman’s menstrual cycle so they can abstain from sexual activity during ovulation.


Contraception is not just used to prevent pregnancy. Many birth control users cite the reason of their use to help regulate their menstrual cycle, control incredibly painful menstrual cramps, control acne, protect against pelvic inflammatory disease (which leads to infertility if left untreated), and to protect from ectopic pregnancies.


Furthermore, birth control has also been proven to help prevent bone thinning, non-cancerous breast growths, endometrial and ovarian cancers, iron deficiency anemia, cysts in the breasts and ovaries, and serious infection in the ovaries, tubes, and uterus. It is clear that for most users, regardless of whether or not they are sexually active, birth control provides many more health advantages than simply not using it at all.


Freedom of religion is an important staple of this country. However, since when has it been up to the Roman Catholic Church to determine the health and well-being of the women of the nation? As an increasing number of secular community hospitals merge with Catholic hospitals, the options for women seeking reproductive health care free of religious influences are slimming.


According to MergerWatch, a nonprofit dedicated to blocking mergers between Catholic and community hospitals, religious sponsors operate 13% of all community hospitals in the United States, and one of every five hospital beds. Over $40 billion in government funding a year goes to support the hospitals which restrict medical care to women, including emergency contraception for rape survivors and safe-sex counseling to help prevent HIV/AIDS.


It is astonishing that women around the country are now faced with the issue of being denied services for their general health due to religious beliefs. Catholic hospitals should not be allowed to force their beliefs on their patrons who may or may not be Catholic.


Every woman should have the right to choose what scope of care she would like to receive, regardless of religious background. Women themselves should be the center of this debate on their health care rights – not the Catholic Church.


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