By Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
In a disturbing development, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is pressuring one of the nation’s largest hospital systems to stop providing life-saving abortions. This extreme stance by the diocese was made public yesterday after the media published a vitriolic letter that the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, wrote to Catholic Healthcare West (CHW).
This issue stems from an abortion that was performed in a Phoenix hospital, St. Joseph’s, which is part of CHW, in November 2009. The woman, a young mother of four children, would have died if she did not receive an abortion. We’ve written about the issue here and here. We also wrote to the federal government and asked them to investigate this instance and others across the country where women’s health and lives were jeopardized by religious hospitals’ refusal to provide emergency abortions.
Now the Bishop of Phoenix is threatening to remove his endorsement of St. Joseph’s unless CHW meets his demands by December 17, 2010. Those demands include requiring CHW to sign a written pledge that St. Joseph’s will never provide another life-saving abortion like the one that occurred in November 2009. But the bishop is asking the hospital to agree to something that is not only very troubling, but is also illegal. Federal law requires all hospitals to provide all emergency care to all patients who walk through their doors. There are no exceptions to this law.
But a large number of hospitals are in violation of this law. Catholic hospitals operate 15 percent of the hospital beds in the country, and are often the only hospital in a particular community. After the incident at St. Joseph’s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed its position that essentially no abortions, including those to save a woman’s life, can be performed in Catholic hospitals.
We all know that, unfortunately, a pregnant woman can suffer complications that require emergency attention to save her health or her life. A pregnant woman who enters an emergency room should be guaranteed that they will be provided life-saving care if something goes horribly awry. Saving a woman’s life must be every hospital’s first priority. St. Joseph’s did the right thing, and we encourage the hospital to continue to provide compassionate care.