As is entirely unsurprising, the news out of Bartlesville today was squirmy. St. John’s Health, which is the company that owns Jane Phillips Medical Center and that was recently acquired by Ascension Health, put out an unsigned statement that read in its entirety:
Consistent with Catholic health care organizations, 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. 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.
What does that mean? It means their “ethical directives” are in conflict with the law. This one in particular:
5. Catholic health care services must adopt these Directives as policy, require adherence to them within the institution as a condition for medical privileges and employment, and provide appropriate instruction regarding the Directives for administration, medical and nursing staff, and other personnel.
It means they really, really don’t want to consider reproductive health to be a medical issue. They want it to be considered only an ethical issue unless and until a pregnant person’s life is directly on the line or they can hand-wave away contraception as treatment for something else.
That doesn’t work, though. Deciding when and whether to get pregnant is an issue of physical health, of mental health, of economic health–frequently for an entire family. Prescribing contraception, administering contraception, inserting contraception, and performing surgical interventions that obviate the need for additional contraception are all health care, even if they’re done for no other purpose than birth control. They are all subject to professional medical judgment.
No church should be interfering with this medical judgment in any way. Basing their decisions on what they posit will happen once you’re dead is not health care. Your immortal soul is not on any medical school exam and with good reason.
The good news is that there are ways to push back on this stuff. I’m still doing a bunch of reading, but I’ll bring you more soon. In the meantime, know that the first step–sometimes the only step needed–is to raise a fuss. Folks in Bartlesville did that, both with the original report, and by organizing. If Ascension Health continues to try to substitute “ethical directives” for good medical care on contraception, it’s not going to happen quietly. And they’ll have help.
In the meantime, those OB-GYNs will go on and do what their professional medical judgment tells them to do, which is what they were doing already.