If you’ve never heard of “conscience clauses”, they are laws that were enacted to enable religious health organizations to deny people (read: women) legitimate medical treatment due to religious beliefs. The argument put forth at the time was that there are many options available to people, and that it is easy to find a provider to cater to your needs. However, with religious (mainly Catholic) hospitals serving 1 of 6 patients in the U.S., I think we can see how that reasoning quickly becomes a problem. This is not even to speak of rural areas in which there may only be one hospital in the entire county. But let’s not worry about such triviliaties, right? Like this harrowing story I recently read:
Kathleen Prieskorn gasped in shock as her medical nightmare began. Still reeling from the heartbreak of an earlier miscarriage, Prieskorn was three months pregnant and working as a waitress when she felt a twinge, felt a trickle down her leg and realized she was miscarrying again.
She rushed to her doctor’s office, “where I learned my amniotic sac had torn,” says Prieskorn, who lives with her husband in Manchester, N.H. “But the nearest hospital had recently merged with a Catholic hospital—and because my doctor could still detect a fetal heartbeat, he wasn’t allowed to give me a uterine evacuation that would help me complete my miscarriage.”
To get treatment, Prieskorn, who has no car, had to instead travel 80 miles to the nearest hospital that would perform the procedure—expensive to do in an ambulance, because she had no health insurance. Her doctor handed her $400 of his own cash and she bundled into the back of a cab.
“During that trip, which seemed endless, I was not only devastated, but terrified,” Prieskorn remembers. “I knew that if there were complications I could lose my uterus—and maybe even my life.”
(Source: Ms. Magazine)
I shudder to think of how carelessly women are treated at such hospitals, and how utterly vulnerable and helpless such women must feel if they do not live in a highly populated area with many options available to them. When will we as a country realize that it is against our own “conscience” to deny human beings medical care and autonomy over their own bodies?
That was very irresponsible of the hospital, and I commend that poor doctor for doing what he could. Once your water breaks, you are at an increased risk of infection. Without amniotic fluid, the fetus will suffocate and die. There was nothing conscientious or moral about that hospital’s rules.
Catastrophe was only narrowly averted in 2009 when a 27-year-old, 11-weeks-pregnant patient in Arizona staggered into the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix with such severe pulmonary hypertension that her doctors determined she would die without an immediate abortion. The ethics committee voted to break hospital policy and advise the woman of her option of a lifesaving abortion. The woman chose to have doctors terminate the pregnancy.
But when the bishop overseeing the Phoenix diocese heard about this, he declared that St. Joseph’s could no longer be a Catholic institution unless it agreed to follow Catholic “moral teachings.” The Bishop forbade Catholic Mass in the hospital’s chapel and excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride—the only nun on the ethics committee.
The Phoenix story drew national outrage, but lesser-known cases of religious doctrine affecting medical care are rampant. In Oregon, a bishop threw out a medical-center director from his diocese for refusing to stop sterilizing patients. In Arizona, a couple raced to a Catholic hospital ER after the wife miscarried one of a pair of fetuses, only to be sent to a secular facility after doctors determined that the twin fetus was still alive—though not viable. And in New York, doctors at a Catholic institution neglected to terminate an ectopic pregnancy (in which the fertilized egg begins to develop outside the uterus) even though the embryo could not possibly survive and the patient faced a potentially fatal rupture of her fallopian tube.
Get your ideology out of my biology!