A woman should be able to choose whether or not she’d like to get pregnant, but if your doctor practices at a Catholic hospital, you might be surprised to find out the hospital also gets a say.
It’s an issue that’s getting a lot of attention this week after a Catholic hospital reversed its decision to deny a pregnant woman a post-birth tubal ligation. Expectant mom Rachel Miller was all set to have a C-section, then get her tubes tied when she was informed that her hospital, Mercy Medical Center in California, wouldn’t allow it. The reason? The medical center follows the Catholic church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for health care, which prohibit “inherently evil” procedures like sterilization.
Catholic hospitals all over the country abide by the church’s Ethical and Religious Directives, leaving people in a lurch when they need restricted forms of reproductive care and have no where else to go. For Miller, the nearest non-Catholic birthing hospital was over 70 miles from her home. That means she had to commit to commuting that far for her child’s birth or entirely forgo a procedure she deemed necessary for her family planning.
Catholic hospitals put people in these situations every day, and I know that because it happened to me. In 2013 I found myself pregnant despite using a ParaGard IUD. It was my second child and a total surprise, since most IUDs carry a less than 1 percent chance of pregnancy.
I decided to keep the baby and gave birth to a healthy son last July, but I knew prior to his birth that I wanted him to be my last child.
I spoke to my doctor about the possibility of having a tubal ligation immediately following the birth, but she said the procedure wasn’t a possibility. See, my OB/GYN is part of a team of physicians who practice for a Catholic health care provider. Under their rules, my doctor could do the procedure but not at one of their hospitals. I would have to heal from labor and delivery, schedule the procedure at a freestanding surgical center, then meet my doctor there a few weeks later so we could do it.
This meant a series of headaches for me and my family. First of all, I had to find time to schedule an invasive procedure and commit to a second recovery period with a new baby in my care. In the meantime, I’d have to get on prescription birth control — something I was actively trying to avoid — or rely on condoms or another IUD and risk another surprise pregnancy. Finally, I had to alter decisions about my health, my well-being and my family’s future to suit my hospital’s religious affiliations.
I’m lucky enough to live in a large city where I have access to non-Catholic medical facilities, but not everyone has that luxury. For people like Rachel Miller, the options are to toe the line and be denied care or travel far out of the way for procedures that should be available everywhere. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a statement about Miller’s case, “Religious institutions that serve the general public should not be allowed to hold religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care.”
This is not just a reproductive issue. The ability to decide when and if we want more children affects our partners, our existing children, our careers and our financial security. I had an accidental pregnancy and though I love my son, I’d like to do everything in my power to ensure that I do not bear any more babies. It’s ludicrous that my chosen physician can’t give me a tubal ligation despite our mutual agreement that it’s the best option for me.
Mercy Medical Center reversed their decision in the case of Rachel Miller, but they plan to continue denying sterilization procedures to other patients. Their decision was basically just a way of avoiding a lawsuit by the ACLU. Still, it highlights an important issue in women’s healthcare of which we should all be aware. According to the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, over 600,000 women in the United States undergo tubal litigation each year.
Women shouldn’t be forced to consider their health care provider’s religious affiliations when making important decisions about their reproductive futures.