Monday, February 20, 2012

"Bishops decry Obama birth control plan, yet Catholic hospitals report sterilizations" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/20/12)

  • "U.S. Catholic bishops have vowed to fight the Obama administration's compromise on insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization, denouncing it as 'coercive,' 'insulting,' 'unconstitutional,' 'belligerent,' and 'dangerous.'

    "Yet there is evidence the sterilization services the bishops oppose have been provided by many Catholic hospitals across the country, including a few in the Philadelphia area....

    "Last year, ...a...scientific look at sterilization practices was published as a doctoral dissertation at Baylor University by Sandra Hapenney, a Catholic in Waco, Texas.

    "Using standardized hospital discharge data, she found that between 2007 and 2009, more than 20,000 women who gave birth at Catholic hospitals in New Jersey and six other states then had their 'tubes tied.' Eighty-five hospitals - almost half of those providing obstetric services - were doing sterilizations to end fertility.

    "Among these were Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden and Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro, where Hapenney found that 282 women - 6 percent of those who gave birth - were sterilized in 2008 and 2009.

    "Catholic ecclesial and hospital authorities dismiss Hapenney's study as incorrect, although they won't discuss specifics.

    "For example, Bishop David M. O'Connell of the Trenton Diocese said in an e-mail that he had talked to hospital administrators and had 'been assured that procedures at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County were in compliance.'

    "A spokesman for Camden Bishop Joseph Galante first said the cleric would 'look into the issue,' then later deferred to Catholic Health East, the health system that operates both hospitals....

    "the use of tubal ligation for contraception has for decades been a point of confusion and tension, if not dissension, among Catholic hospitals.

    "'I think the teaching is quite clear, but there was a debate, beginning in the early 1970s, about whether this [surgery] could be considered a therapeutic option,' said John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, based in Bala Cynwyd. 'Some people are [still] genuinely confused. They say, "Well, this isn't a lady who wants sterilization because she's selfish; she's got a serious health condition" that would make another pregnancy risky.

    "'But the teaching says if the direct purpose is to sterilize, that's not acceptable,' he said....

    "The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is immoral because marital sex must be open to the possibility of procreation....

    "Interestingly, Hapenney conducted her study to encourage adherence to Catholic doctrine, which she teaches at a Catholic high school. She has a theology degree from St. Mary's University, a public health degree from the University of Hawaii, and, as of last year, a doctorate in church-state studies from Baylor.

    "She fears that by deviating from that doctrine, Catholic hospitals are undermining the very argument the bishops are making: that health-care providers have a right to refuse to participate in practices they consider morally objectionable.

    "'My whole point,' she said, 'is keep up this diversity, and we'll jeopardize our conscience objections'" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/20/12).

In many ways, Hapenney is echoing what was said in 2009 by Professor Leonard J. Nelson, III. In Diagnosis Critical: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Health Care, Nelson noted that some Catholic health "systems have entered into arrangements to provide services such as direct sterilizations and abortion referrals....The existence of such arrangements increases the risk of scandal and could embolden those who favor a mandate requiring all provide a full range of [so-called] reproductive services" (p. 102).

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