Report Shows Religious Hospitals Fail to Disclose Banned Services
(Washington, DC; 12/11/03) The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) has released
a guide for advocates and consumers focusing on getting health care institutions
reveal the services they will not perform because of religious or moral objections.
Some of the largest health care systems are religiously affiliated, yet most
consumers are unaware that these institutions may prohibit certain treatments
or services as a result. Truth or Consequences: Using Consumer Protection
Laws to Expose Institutional Restrictions on Reproductive and Other Health Care
arms consumers with knowledge of the laws that cover disclosure requirements
and strategies to encourage institutions to provide appropriate notice to the
The ban on services at many religiously affiliated hospitals, nursing homes,
managed care companies and insurers go beyond abortions, extending to other
arenas of health to include: end-of-life-treatments; research and therapy using
fetal and embryonic stem cells; counseling about the use of condoms by HIV patients
(and other patients with sexually transmitted diseases); certain infertility
treatments; emergency contraception (including for rape victims); certain treatment
of ectopic pregnancies; tubal ligations (and other forms of sterilization);
and contraceptive services (including contraceptive prescriptions) and counseling.
While religiously-affiliated health care institutions can restrict services
in certain circumstances, they must warn consumers in a clear, accurate and
timely way or face legal sanctions. However, health care consumers are often
unaware of these limitations because facilities provide little notice or information
about the restrictions, often marketing themselves as providing comprehensive
women's health services when they in fact do not.
"Refusing to inform patients and communities about bans on important medical
procedures makes bad medicine, bad community relations, and often violates the
law," said Marcia D. Greenberger, NWLC Co-President. "These religious restrictions
are widespread and have serious consequences for women's health. Advocates
can use these consumer protection laws to fight back."
In a nationwide survey cited in the report, nearly half of the 1,000 respondents
said they believed they would be able to get medical services that may go against
Catholic teaching at a Catholic hospital. Less than seven percent were able
to identify restricted services such as emergency contraception, sterilization
or infertility treatment. Women's health care is threatened when they must
make decisions about their care without knowing about these restrictions. For
example, pregnant women who may want to have a tubal ligation during the same
hospital stay as delivery might not select a doctor who only has privileges
at a hospital that prohibits that practice.
Although there are other types of entities that impose restrictions on health
care because institutional and or moral objections, Catholic entities usually
impose the most rigid limitations on women's reproductive and other health services,
often failing to share information with patients on treatment alternatives and
referrals that go against church teachings. Catholic health care entities also
have a substantial role in this country's health care system. Five of the ten
largest health care systems are Catholic-owned. And in many rural areas, Catholic
hospitals are often the sole health care providers. Also, Catholic health care
entities usually impose bans on nonsectarian institutions that merge or affiliate
with them, resulting in non-Catholic entities agreeing to comply with religious
restrictions. As a consequence, key women's reproductive and other health services
may be eliminated for a community with little or no notice to patients and consumers.
"What is shocking is the silence surrounding these restrictions," said Elena
N. Cohen, NWLC senior counsel and coauthor of Truth or Consequences.
"Unfortunately, many women only learn about these restrictions when they are
faced with urgent health care decisions, not when they are planning their care.
We trust and expect our health care institutions to provide quality health care
and not mislead the public about the scope of their services. Failing to inform
patients about restrictions in a timely manner or not at all is a gross betrayal
of public trust."
Truth or Consequences gives advocates tools they to improve communication
between the health care industry and its customers. NWLC has developed a number
of legal tools that have been used to reduce the negative impact of religious
restrictions, but legal theories based on consumer protection law is a new way
for advocates to protect health care consumers' rights. Truth or Consequences
describes different types of laws that advocates can use to mount a challenge
to the notice practices of hospitals, nursing homes, HMOs and insurers; strategies
to expose religious restrictions; government agencies that enforce consumer
protection laws; and examples of where advocates have been successful.
For a copy of the report or more information on the Center's ongoing campaign
to develop new legal strategies and work with state and local advocates to protect
women's health services, click
The National Women's Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been
working since 1972 to advance and protect women's legal rights. NWLC focuses
on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including health,
education, employment, and economic security, with special attention given to
the concerns of low-income women.
Created: 12/11/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.