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Does your community hospital provide services like abortion, birth control counseling, or even emergency contraception after rape? How about voluntary sterilization or infertility treatments? Probably not, if the hospital is Catholic. But what you might not realize is that even if your community hospital is nonsectarian, it still won't provide those services if it is in any way affiliated or has merged with any Catholic organization. What exactly does this mean for you and your family?

The basic situation is that the nearly 600 Catholic hospitals in America are governed by rules prescribed by the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. These doctrines are in turn created by religious leaders in the Vatican, far from the immediate needs and situations of the people affected. It will come as no surprise that in hospitals which are governed by Vatican regulations, abortion won't be provided:

#45  Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.

Notice that this directive uses the words "never permitted." This means that even in cases of rape or incest, no abortion services will be provided. Victims of sexual assault will even be denied access to the "morning after pill" to prevent pregnancy from the attack:

#36  ...If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however to initiate or recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.

Whether or not abortion may be permitted if the life of the mother is threatened is questionable because this directive does not explicitly allow for it.

It is also important to note the prohibition on "material cooperation" - this means that not only is the hospital prohibited from actually providing an abortion, but it cannot aid abortions in any way. This includes even providing transportation for women to another institution which might provide abortions.

This is not an insignificant restriction. Dr. Wayne Goldner, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Manchester, New Hampshire, received a 35-year-old patient in May, 1998, whose 14-week-old pregnancy was doomed. Her water had broken prematurely and he decided that she required an emergency abortion in order to avoid developing a server uterine infection.

Unfortunately, administrators at his non-sectarian hospital refused because they thought it would violate the Directives put into place after a recent merger - this, despite the fact that Goldner had been assured that policies on abortion and other reproductive services would remain unchanged.

The woman was too poor to get herself anyplace else and the hospital certainly wouldn't provide "material cooperation" to get her to a place where she could be helped. So, Dr. Goldner paid for a cab out of his own pocket so she could be admitted to another hospital eighty miles away.

Goldner's efforts to fight the new polices have caused serious personal repercussions. He has been picketed, he has lost his teaching position, and his daughter's school has received a bomb threat. Why? Simply because he wishes to offer legal reproductive services in his community.

Local bishops have the power to go even further than the Directives require. For example, John Cardinal O'Connor of New York proclaimed in 1995 that even collaboration with non-Catholic institutions would be prohibited unless those non-Catholic institutions "...are committed to comply with Catholic medical, moral and ethical principles." This would prevent collaborative efforts on community health services, health education, and more with any hospital and any institution which does not adhere to Vatican dogma.

Another directive also impacts this abortion question:

#48  In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.

An "extrauterine pregnancy" includes ectopic pregnancies, where the fetus has implanted in the fallopian tubes, and pregnancies where the fertilized egg has implanted at the ovary or even outside the reproductive organs and in the abdomen. Extrauterine pregnancies can never proceed to viability.

This condition absolutely does threaten the life of the mother, but Catholic hospitals do not permit abortions which would possibly save her life and, hopefully, allow her to have future pregnancies. The lives of non-Catholic women are thus supposed to be sacrificed on the altar of Catholic doctrines.

The upshot of this is that in small communities where a Catholic hospital has merged with the only other (secular, nonsectarian) hospital, there can exist absolutely no hospital-based family planning services and birth regulation outside of the "rhythm method." And this has been decided for people - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - by the Vatican in Rome.

Keep reading: End of Life Services.

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