Catholic healthcare firm tells doctors at Oklahoma facility to stop prescribing birth control

By Arturo Garcia
Monday, March 31, 2014 21:20 EDT
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birth control pills [AFP]
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Birth control access for women in Oklahoma and several other states will be cut short as part of a new directive by a Catholic-affiliated healthcare firm that recently acquired another company.

The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise reported on Monday that as a result of St. Louis-based Ascension Health’s acquisition of its parent company, gynecologists affiliated with Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville will no longer be allowed to issue birth control without diagnosing patients with a separate condition.

“I was told that my physician has been instructed that they can no longer write prescriptions for birth control as birth control,” one woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Examiner-Enterprise. “This affects me because I take birth control as birth control. There are other ways to receive birth control, for example headaches, cramps, excessive bleeding — but I have none of those symptoms.”

A representative of Jane Phillips refused to comment when contacted by The Raw Story Monday evening.

Jane Phillips’ parent company, St. John Health System, was acquired by Ascension last year. A spokesperson for St. John released a statement saying, “Consistent with all Catholic health care organizations, St. John Health System operates in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities.”

The Nation reported that concern over the new rule prompted a social media campaign calling for medical care “that is free from religious agendas.”

The outcry prompted St. John to release a follow-up statement late in the day on Monday.

“St. John Health System operates in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and therefore does not approve or support contraceptive practices,” the second statement read. “However, only physicians (not institutions) are licensed to practice medicine and make medical judgments. While our physicians agree to abide by the Directives, they also have the ability to prescribe medications, including hormonal medications, in accordance with their independent professional medical judgment. This includes informing patients when they are operating under their own professional medical judgment and not on behalf of St. John Health System.”

Ascension’s operations stretch across 22 states, covering 113,000 facilities, as seen in the map below:

The apparent mandate leaves Bartlesville with only one gynecologist able to perscribe birth control. According to the Examiner-Enterprise, around 18,500 women currently live there.

“I do not think a religiously affiliated hospital system is good for Bartlesville,” another anonymous patient told the Examiner-Enterprise. “We have one hospital and when that hospital refuses services that almost half the population wants, due to its religious beliefs, it forces money to leave Bartlesville. This is not just an issue of women’s health care rights but it is also an economic issue for our town.”

In a column published earlier this month at The Huffington Post, John Geyman, Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine at the University of Washington, said that Catholic health companies are acquiring non-Catholic facilities on a greater basis, posing a threat to reproductive health choices for their patients.

“Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (the ERDs) are being enforced by the bishops more vigorously in many parts of the country, holding their employed physicians to strict adherence to the ERDs or loss of employment,” Geyman wrote. “Meanwhile patients in many locations, especially rural areas, are finding it increasingly difficult to gain access to essential care.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

Arturo Garcia
Arturo Garcia
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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