Category Archives: Reproductive Rights

Religious directives dictating healthcare

Occasionally I have discussions with people about whether it is a such a big deal that Catholic hospitals follow their own set of religiously-inspired directives when treating patients. Shouldn’t a private institution be able to do whatever they want? Isn’t a breach of religious freedom to tell religious organizations how to operate? This is how I respond.

On December 9th, the New York Times Editorial Board summarized the issue regarding Catholic hospitals and standard of care:

Beyond new state efforts to restrict women’s access to proper reproductive health care, another, if quieter, threat is posed by mergers between secular hospitals and Catholic hospitals operating under religious directives from the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. These directives, which oppose abortions, inevitably collide with a hospital’s duty to provide care to pregnant women in medical distress.

They go on to describe a case from 2010 in which a pregnant woman from Michigan had her water break at 18 weeks. The doctors at the only hospital in her county – a Catholic hospital – did not inform her that her fetus had almost no chance of survival, and that terminating the pregnancy was the safest option. Despite the danger to her life, the woman was sent home twice. The doctors had been following the religious directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which apply to all Catholic hospitals in the nation.

Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds and, in many communities, are the only hospital facilities available.

This isn’t the first time that religious directives have conflicted with proper medical treatment in the US or abroad. In 2010, a nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix was excommunicated for approving a life-saving abortion for a pregnant mother-of-four. Last year, in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar died of blood poisoning because doctors weren’t permitted to perform the abortion that would save her. In short, Catholic directives require that doctors withhold information or withhold treatment from patients, and the consequences can be tragic.

No hospital should be allowed to operate this way. There are standards of care that healthcare institutions must adhere to, and the ACLU is currently suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for enforcing directives which contravene those standards. No one knows if they’ll win the suit, but I applaud them for trying. The bishops are right to call this is a matter of religious freedom; specifically, it’s a matter of whether our healthcare system will be free from the bishops’ religion.

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Beatriz lives

I’m really happy that this woman lived.

Beatriz is a 22-year-old mother of one. She waited months for the government of El Salvador – a highly Catholic country – to approve a medically necessary abortion. They would not approve, even though Beatriz’ fetus was non-viable. Many people, including myself, signed a petition by Amnesty International to change the government’s decision.

In the end, the government didn’t approve of the abortion. However, the fetus became old enough that doctors could deliver it and it would count as a “birth.” The baby died within hours (it was missing most of its brain), and Beatriz is recovering.

I’m happy that Beatriz lived, but I’m angry that this ever became a problem. El Salvador’s laws on abortion are the kind of laws that organizations like the Catholic Church would like to have in America. Even though there’s no evidence that such laws do any good whatsoever, people still push for them to become reality. (For a look at the harm that El Salvador’s abortion laws do, see this harrowing report from the NY Times.)

As someone who used to be anti-abortion, I can say that many abortion opponents do not display half of the humanity that is displayed in that NY Times article. We are taught by our religions or our cultures to think in absolutes, to ignore grey area, and to believe something because somebody told us to. We should never make decisions for other people based on so little understanding of their experiences. Doing so leads to the death of women with hopes, plans, fears, lived experiences, and social and familial ties to others.

If anyone disagrees, I’d love to hear what you think here or in private (you can email me through my Google+ profile).

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A Catholic sister writes questionable things about contraception

The other day, a Catholic friend of mine shared a blog post written by one Sister Clare Hunter. Sister Clare is a contributing writer to the Diocese of Arlington’s Encourage & Teach blog. The blog’s mission is to “encourage all readers to find out more about their faith and to embrace the fullness of the truth that the Catholic Church offers.” But the truth Sr. Clare penned in her post wasn’t very… well, truthful, so I left a comment. As of this writing, Sister Clare hasn’t responded (I will update this post if she does). Regardless, I decided that since there’s a good amount of information in the comment, I should share it here as well.

In her post, Sister Clare argues against the benefits of contraception, asserting that contraception hasn’t helped us decrease abortion rates, or increase women’s health or happiness. She also implies – citing a rather dubious non-medical source – that birth control pills are unhealthy for women, or at least that they do more harm than good. If you’ve read any of the research on contraception, you know that these claims aren’t true.

I’ll leave it up to readers to take a look at Sister Clare’s full post for context. Without further ado, here is the comment I left her (slightly edited after proofreading). Note that my comment starts with a quote by Sister Clare about how contraception hasn’t decreased abortion rates:

I am BEGGING someone to help me wrap my mind around this anomaly! …WHY, WHY, do we still have 1.2 million abortions a year? 52% of pregnancies are unintended.

I can help you with that!

It’s simple, really – there are still lots of abortions because 95% of all unintended pregnancies in the US are a result of women who do not use contraceptives, or who use them inconsistently. The women who do use contraception correctly and consistently account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies (scroll down to the first graph here).

The reason many women don’t use contraception or don’t use it correctly is because they don’t have the money, don’t have adequate knowledge about contraceptives, and don’t have access to effective contraceptive services (See Guttmacher’s report here.)

When women are given the tools to regulate their reproduction effectively, they make the choice to use those tools. As a result, unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates drop sharply. A study done in the St. Louis area gave 9,000 women and teens their choice of no-cost birth control. A year later, this had cut abortion rates by 62-78% of the national rate.

So it really is simple. If you want to decrease unintended pregnancy and abortion rates, contraception and comprehensive sex education are the way to do it.

As for your concerns about women’s health, it seems like you’re less well-informed than the women who are using the pill. Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) offer a host of health benefits in addition to contraception. Fourteen percent of OCP users rely on the pill exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes, including 762,000 women who’ve never had sex.

I agree that women (nay, everyone!) should be duly informed of the risks of any drug or medical procedure they may undergo. But they should be informed by doctors and other relevant experts – not the questionable sources pushing their own health products that you linked to.

Really, this entire post is very misinformed. It seems like you’re just throwing up whatever arguments you can to support the view you already hold, rather than doing your research about contraception or anything else. And it makes me angry when I think of the college students who might be taking your advice.

Though I didn’t comment on it, Sister Clare also argued in her post that overpopulation isn’t really an issue (and therefore contraception isn’t important to control it). I’m no expert on overpopulation, but my understanding is that, globally, it is an issue. And what did Sister Clare cite as a source for her claim? A pro-life organization called the Population Research Institute. I’m sure they aren’t biased in any way!

The facts are in: contraception is important, and contraception works. The only people who claim otherwise are those with a conflict of interest, who have to ignore certain facts in order to reach conclusions they were wedded to from the get-go.

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Our government has standards that religious institutions must live up to

There have been many excellent responses to the Catholic bishops’ complaints about the new US law regarding  insurance coverage for contraception. But Marty Klein at his blog, Sexual Intelligence, has just published the most concise and powerful response I have seen.

Amidst complaints by the Catholic clergy that their religious freedoms are being infringed, Klein states the obvious – our government mandates standards for work environments.

What employers like Notre Dame should NOT be allowed to do is present their employees with a substandard work environment. Just because they have strong religious feelings (yawn), their workplaces shouldn’t be less safe, less free of harassment, or offer less healthcare protection. It’s the government’s job to make sure Notre Dame meets the current minimum standards of the American workplace, whatever they are. It’s not the government’s job to help Notre Dame shape its employees’ private behavior to suit its vision of personal morality.

Safety regulations in the workplace are not new. It doesn’t matter if your religion prohibits you from wearing a hardhat; you still have to follow the rules. The same goes for harassment, and healthcare. There are standards enacted for the good of everyone. Expecting people of all religions to abide by them is not a novel concept, nor is it unfair.

Do read the whole thing. It’s short and direct, and makes it obvious what the Catholic bishops are doing – whining that they can’t do whatever they want in a secular democracy.

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Some things worth reading

I’m still trying to catch up on some links I’ve been meaning to share. Here’s two for today:

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying (and learning from) Valerie Tarico’s blog, Away Point. By her own description, she writes on the “intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics.” Her posts shed light on the religious underpinnings of misogyny and opposition to sex and contraception  in the United States (by our own elected representatives!) She often couples these analyses with straight-up factual information about contraception and reproductive health – something that many Americans get too little of. There is a post in particular that is chock full of information that probably everyone should know, regarding what contraception is available, how it can benefit us as a society, and what groups (church, political, medical, etc.) have a vested interest in keeping us less-than-informed on these matters. Check it out:
15 Things Old Boys like Rick Santorum Don’t Want You to Know About Your Body and Your Contraception

On a related note: battles over contraception are often actually about sexual morals and sexual permissiveness. The Religious Right wants to limit access to contraception and abortion facilities because they want to limit what we do in the bedroom. One of the best arguments against such a view – aside from the fact that it is a baseless and meritless moral system – is that trying to control people’s sexuality actually makes society worse. The data shows that social conservatism contributes to higher rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, and STDs. Many countries that are more sexually permissive than the United States have much lower rates of these problems. See for yourself:
5 Countries that do it better: How sexual prudery makes America a less healthy and happy place 

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