Halting Second Trimester Abortions in Catholic Hospitals?


Catholic hospitals which have not been stripped of their Catholic Church affiliation already, as was the case recently with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix when it saved the life of a mother of four by providing an emergency abortion, are barred form performing abortion care for women. Based on our conscience laws, Catholic facilities can legally opt out of providing certain types of care to patients predicated on the idea that these types of services contradict the stance of the Catholic Church against abortion and contraception. But what about stopping an abortion once it’s started? One Catholic hospital in Chicago is doing so, all in service to what they say is their mandate to “protect life.”

Resurrection Hospital has instituted a policy to deal with women who come to the hospital seeking to halt a second trimester abortion, given that these abortions take two steps and a few days to complete. The hospital is doing so “in partnership” not with health providers or public health advocates. They have bonded with pro-life activists with a goal to stop all legal abortion.

According to the Chicago Tribune,

Working with two anti-abortion groups, Resurrection Medical Center, the largest hospital of one of Chicago’s largest Catholic health care systems, has put in place a practice that when a woman arrives in the emergency room with an activist seeking to stop a second-trimester abortion, she should be treated immediately. Since October, four women have arrived at the hospital seeking to halt their abortions, and three of them had their abortions stopped.

Women deserve access to care, of course, and have every right to waver one way or the other when it comes to decisions as important as whether or not to continue a pregnancy. What jumps out in this story, clearly, is the fact that women are being brought in by activists who are not concerned in the least with women’s well-being or with ensuring unbiased, non-judgemental care. These are hard-core pro-life activists with an agenda. And despite what those who are as extremely anti-choice as these activists call what they’re doing, they are not “counseling” women. They are persuading women to do what they tell them they should do.

The article mentions that the hospital has instituted a protocol for ensuring that women are not being coerced into making the decision to halt the abortion. And, in fact, one woman did decide to continue with the abortion after privately confiding in hospital personnel that she felt pushed by the anti-choice activist who accompanied her to the hospital.

However, it’s hardly comforting to think that a Catholic hospital which stands adamantly against abortion care and partners with the Pro-Life Action League will have adequate counseling procedures in place. How comfortable will a woman feel, ultimately, relaying to a representative of a facility that is institutionally against abortion care, once she’s already started an abortion and then changed her mind, that she prefers to continue the abortion? These hospital providers are in a position of authority in these scenarios. This is far from a neutral zone. In this scenario, a woman finds herself accompanied by an activist against abortion, meeting with health care providers who are against abortion.

A physician who provides abortions in the Chicago area explains in the article that women are counseled that they can change their mind mid-way through a procedure.

“Women requesting an abortion at Family Planning Associates Medical Group have the absolute right to change their mind at any time regarding their decision to complete the abortion procedure,” said Dr. Steve Lichtenberg, medical director of Family Planning Associates on Elston Avenue near Cicero Avenue. “We have staff on call 24 hours a day, and are prepared to remove laminaria at our facility day or night, in the event that a patient reverses her decision to complete the abortion procedure.”

Catholic hospitals are hospitals that leverage the law to opt-out of providing abortion care, contraception and other reproductive health care – even in life-threatening circumstances for the woman; they are part of the Catholic Church which shames women for certain choices about their own bodies and health; and the Church sets up barriers to women’s decision-making believing instead that there are consequences, for women, to equity and freedom.

The article describes, perhaps inadvertently, a case where a woman was approached by an anti-choice activist outside the Family Planning Associates building and the activist “convinced a woman…that her abortion could be stopped.” Convincing a woman and allowing a woman to make her own decision on the basis of nonbiased, accurate information are not the same thing.

And Catholic Hospitals operate approximately 15 percent of all hospital beds in this country and though federal law says regardless of procedure needed, all hospitals need to provide life-saving care, that’s not nearly always the case. It is still the case, as is the official position of Catholic hospitals, that the rights of providers come before the rights of patients in some situations. It’s hard to tell whose rights take precedence in this scenario.

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  • prichard

    If a woman walks out of a clinic, having come to her own conclusion that she made a mistake and doesn’t want to continue the abortion, who else is she going to talk to?  Are you expecting that she should have to go to a phone book on her own and start calling around in hopes of finding someone to help her?  It’s only logical that she would grab the first person she sees that says she can get her the help she now urgently wants, which is the activist outside the clinic telling her the location of the place – the only place – that can stop the procedure.

    And why are you assuming that she received less-biased counseling inside the clinic?  Both organizations, the provider AND the intervening, have their own agenda. 

    What about prior?  Are you suggesting the woman/girl didn’t receive any biased input in making her decision to go into the abortion clinic in the first place?  That goes against what even pro-choice organizations like the Alan Guttmacher Institute have reported (pressure from male partners to abort occurs in approx 64% of the cases)!

    A woman strong enough to make her own decisions is just going to have to stand up to the pressure from either side.  Either that, or somebody needs to seriously rethink their position about women being in charge of their own bodies – the case can’t be made both ways. 

  • arekushieru

    It’s apparent you didn’t read the whole article.  One woman even stated that she felt pressured by the anti-choice activist to halt her abortion.  Secondly, if you are not a legitimate health counsellor (of which none of the PLAL can be said to represent without a huge stretch of the imagination) you should not be representing yourself as such or interfering in medical decisions.  That should be left up to the medical professionals.  

    The only ‘agenda’ an organization such as PP CAN have, is to ensure that women make their own choices in regards to their pregnancies.  That is what ProChoice is all about, after all.

    You are making a statement of false equivalence, here.  PP is not attempting to bring women into their organization through pressure from their male partners.  They are there to DISsuade such coercive attempts.  Completely the opposite with PLAL and the Catholic Hospital.

    Why should she have to?  I mean, the only time anyone feels comfortable in intervening with an individual’s medical decisions, is when that individual is female and  the medical decision concerns her uterus.  That’s simply more victim-blaming, then.  

    The tone of your comment comes off sounding male, how convenient for you, if that’s the case, eh?