As the Catholic Church and the Obama administration continue to grapple over birth control, a larger issue looms: Women may find themselves with less access to birth control, abortion, sterilization, and other procedures as Catholic medical centers increasingly merge with secular hospitals. About 20 mergers between larger, more financially secure Catholic-sponsored facilities and their smaller secular counterparts have been announced over the past three years, the New York Times reports; in 2010, about one-sixth of all hospital patients were admitted into Catholic facilities. At one Seattle hospital, that means no more elective abortions will be offered; in Illinois, a planned merger will mean that women must get tubal ligations elsewhere.
The mergers are coming about in part because federal health reform requires hospitals to be more efficient, and a number of officials, doctors, and advocates are concerned about the consequences. But some of the Catholic institutions are attempting to balance the church's belief system with patients' needs. One Texas facility initially allowed another system to offer sterilizations on a separate floor accessed by a separate elevator; those procedures are now offered at another hospital. In San Francisco, one large Catholic system severed its formal ties to the church so that it could more effectively work with non-Catholic as well as Catholic hospitals. Another Catholic hospital allows affiliated doctors at a separate practice to prescribe contraception. Click for the full article. (Read more contraception stories.)