For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Robyn Shepherd, ACLU, 212-519-7829 or 549-2666;
Lois Uttley, MergerWatch, 212-870-2010 or 518-281-4134;

Rise in Catholic-Sponsored Hospitals Threatens Women’s Health, New Report Finds

NEW YORK - The number of Catholic acute-care hospitals grew 16 percent between 2001 and 2011, while all other types of acute-care hospitals except for-profits declined in numbers, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the MergerWatch Project. This rise in Catholic-sponsored or -affiliated acute-care hospitals is threatening women’s access to reproductive health care, the report warns.

The report, “Miscarriage of Medicine: The Growth of Catholic Hospitals and the Threat to Reproductive Health Care,” finds that by 2011, about one in nine acute-care beds was in Catholic-sponsored or -affiliated hospitals, and 10 of the 25 largest hospital systems in the country were Catholic-sponsored. The report found that the number of hospitals overall (especially public and other nonprofits) has declined.

With the rise of Catholic hospitals has come the increasing danger that women’s reproductive health care will be compromised by religious restrictions. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (the Directives), issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), govern care at these facilities. The Directives prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion care, even when a woman’s health or life is in danger. Moreover, they often restrict even the ability of hospital staff to provide patients with full information and referrals for care that conflict with religious teachings.

“In short, our report reveals how Catholic hospitals have left far behind their humble beginnings as facilities established by religious orders to serve the faithful and the poor,” said Lois Uttley, MergerWatch director and co-author of the report. “These facilities have organized into large systems that are aggressively expanding to capture greater market share, while relying on public funding and using religious doctrine to compromise women’s health.”

The report shows that Catholic hospitals do not provide more charity care or care to the poor than the average hospital. It also highlights several examples of the threat to patient care at Catholic hospitals and includes a number of recommendations, including a call on CMS to enforce requirements that all hospitals, regardless of religious affiliation, provide information about treatment and emergency care.

“As our report shows, even as Catholic hospitals open their doors to people of all faiths and accept billions of taxpayer dollars, when it comes to reproductive health care, these facilities can place religious doctrine above patient health care needs,” said Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director and another co-author of the report. “Medical standards, not religious doctrine, should guide medical care.”

In a related matter, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the USCCB earlier this month on behalf of a Michigan woman, Tamesha Means, who sought help at a Catholic-sponsored hospital after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy. Because of the Directives, the hospital failed to treat Means according to medical standards, causing unnecessary trauma and harm. The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, independent of the MergerWatch Project.

The report is available at:


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