Separation of Church and Hospital: Strategies to Protect Pro-Choice Physicians in Religiously Affiliated Hospitals
31 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2012
Date Written: March 1, 2003
As Catholic and other religious health care systems and institutions take on a larger presence in the health care field, they have begun to exert enormous influence over the health care of those they serve. As hospitals throughout the country face growing financial difficulties, religiously affiliated institutions have increasingly turned to mergers with non-sectarian institutions as a remedy. Many of these now religiously-affiliated hospitals restrict the services they provide in accordance with religious beliefs and doctrine, including prohibiting all forms of contraceptive services and counseling, as well as medical and surgical abortions, sterilizations, and even emergency contraception to victims of rape. But patients’ rights are not the only ones at stake — the rights of thousands of hospital employees are affected as well. Hospitals that follow religious doctrine in treating their patients often also insist on adherence to the doctrine by all those who are employed there regardless of the employees’ personal beliefs or convictions.
This article explores the problem faced by doctors and other health care professionals as their freedoms of speech, belief, and association are curtailed by the fear of job loss, demotion, or other adverse employment actions. The article then proposes a potential litigation strategy that may be used to combat the power of religious health care facilities to force their employees to conform to religious directives. The Church Amendment, a piece of legislation attached to the Health Programs Extension Act of 1973, contains a valid conditional spending provision that may be used to prohibit sectarian hospitals from restricting the pro-choice beliefs, words, and outside actions of the health care professionals they employ.
Keywords: women, abortion, doctor, employment, Church Amendment, hospital
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