The Assault on Women’s Reproductive Health Care

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The agendas that have come to define the religious and political right provide this writer with a marvelous supply of subjects. It’s a task I usually take on with some enthusiasm. This week’s column is different. It’s about a community institution I’ve admired and relied upon for decades.

The decision by Hoag Hospital’s Board of Directors’ to end elective abortions just after its affiliation with St. Joseph Health System prompted me to speak with Robert T. Braithwaite, president and chief executive officer of Hoag Hospital, Dr. Allyson Brooks, medical director of Hoag’s Women’s Health Institute, and Jon Dunn, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties.

Despite their assurances that women’s reproductive health care will not be affected by Hoag’s decision, I believe that it will be. Furthermore, the way that Hoag’s board chose to handle the decision has damaged the hospital’s abundant good will that has built up over the years with many of the men and women of this community.

Here’s what Hoag has not told us:

  •  The availability of full reproductive health care is declining nationally, in part because large Catholic-run organizations have been acquiring smaller non-Catholic healthcare facilities. The Catholic Church now administers five of the nation’s six largest healthcare corporations. It’s a disturbing trend. “Biblical Medicine? How Religious Corporations Are Gobbling Up Healthcare Facilities” quotes this statement by the Church’s U.S. Conference of Bishops: “New partnerships can be viewed as opportunities for Catholic healthcare institutions and services to witness to their religious and ethical commitments and so influence the healing profession…. For example, new partnerships can help to implement the Church’s social teaching.” Bank on it – this is the wave of the future unless hospitals such as Hoag stand tall, and say, “No.”
  • Hoag’s decision means that the women of Orange County have one less available option. Hoag’s ban includes not only women who wake up pregnant and decide they don’t want to bear a child but also those with troubled pregnancies – fetal genetic anomalies, for example. Such pregnancies made up approximately 60% of the number of elective abortions performed at Hoag. It’s this area of health- and life-threatening pregnancies that concern many local ob-gyns.
  • Hoag assure us that St. Joseph’s did not exert pressure. The unanswered question becomes, who on Hoag’s Board pushed for the ban? Some local Protestants are fervently anti-choice. Is that where the push came from – someone on Hoag’s board? Braithwaite replaces Dr. Richard Afable, now the president and CEO of Covenant Health Network, which oversees the affiliation between Hoag and St. Joseph Health. What is Dr. Afable’s position on elective abortions?
  • Hoag claims that the number of abortions has been declining. I hope the trend continues – but let it be because women have better access to family planning services rather than the lessening availability of elective abortion. And why has not Hoag been proactive in immediately setting up a clearly articulated plan, as the California attorney general’s office prescribed, to refer its patients who seek to end their pregnancies. Specifically, how does Hoag plan to work with entities like Planned Parenthood?
  • To this end, is Hoag willing to help fund the $300,000 for reproductive health education that the Orange County Board of Supervisors cut from Planned Parenthood in 2009? Such services demonstrably reduce the number of abortions. And speaking of money, those of us who are passionate about maintaining the full range of women’s reproductive health care are now faced with a dilemma: Donate our resources to Planned Parenthood or to Hoag Hospital? What a lousy decision to have to make.

 In his Daily Pilot commentary of May 26, Robert Braithwaite writes of “the complexities in maintaining respect for the heritage of two faith-based organizations, one Catholic and one Presbyterian.”

For this very reason, Hoag’s decision making should have included both dialogue with its ob-gyns and a public forum. By not doing so, Hoag has lost the trust of many in the community. It’s not too late to find a better way to dialogue. I call on Hoag to organize such a forum. And given Hoag’s claim that St. Joseph’s did not exert pressure, what would stop the Hoag Board from rescinding its ban on elective abortions?

 Columnist Jean Ardell can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. While Hoag is free to establish its own policies, the community deserves to know the truth about the reason for this decision and answering these questions would be a good start. Better yet, the board could decide now to reinstate women’s access to comprehensive health care services.