Dispelling Six Myths About Catholic Hospital Care in the United States


Cross-posted with permission from ANSIRH.

Over the past decade, Catholic hospitals have merged with and purchased nonsectarian hospitals around the United States, becoming leading players in the nation’s health-care industry. Catholic hospitals receive billions of taxpayer dollars each year and have a combined gross patient revenue of $213.7 billion. The standards of medical care put forth in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” differ from those generally recognized in other medical settings, particularly regarding reproductive health care. These variances not only restrict choices about abortion and contraception, but reduce access to evidence-based reproductive health services as a whole. 

Here are six commonly held misconceptions about the breadth and depth of Catholic hospital care in the United States. Below we dispel these myths:

Myth #1: Catholic health care is provided by and for Catholic people.

Fact: Catholic health-care employees are religiously diverse.

Fact: Catholic health-care patients are diverse.

Myth #2: Catholic health care doesn’t affect many people.

Fact: Catholic hospitals serve a large and increasing number of Americans.

  • One in six patients in the United States receive care in a Catholic institution.
  • Ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the United States are Catholic.
  • From 2001 to 2011, Catholic hospitals increased in number by 16 percent, while other nonprofit and public hospitals declined in number.

Myth #3: Catholic patients want care that adheres to Catholic doctrine.

Fact: Catholic patients utilize contraception and abortion at equal and higher rates than the general population.

Myth #4: The charity care provided by Catholic hospitals justifies a few omissions. 

Fact: Catholic hospitals provide charity care at a rate below the average for all hospitals.

  • Catholic hospital charity care accounts for 2.8 percent of total patient revenue.
  • For-profit hospitals provide charity care at 2 percent and public hospitals at 5.6 percent.

Myth #5: Catholic doctrine only affects a few aspects of reproductive health care. 

Fact: In addition to contraception and abortion, the following procedures are restricted by Catholic doctrine:

  • Postpartum and direct sterilization;
  • Elimination of an ectopic pregnancy;
  • Medical assistance with a miscarriage or other perinatal loss;
  • Screening for fatal fetal anomalies;
  • Artificial reproductive technologies involving donor gametes.

Myth #6: Patients can choose to go to non-Catholic facilities for care. 

Fact: Patients and physicians who work at Catholic hospitals are often unaware of the scope of restrictions.

Fact: Catholic hospitals are often a community’s only choice for health care.

  • Thirty Catholic hospitals are sole-provider hospitals, meaning they are located more than 35 miles from a similar hospital or provider.
  • These hospitals receive more money from the federal government for being sole providers in a region.

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  • Mindy McIndy

    My internal medicine physician, neurologist and gastointerologist are all through Mercy system, which is the Catholic hospital system in my region. They are the cream of the crop, so that’s why I go to them. Luckily, my cardiologist, OB/GYN, gynecological surgeon and pain management doctor are through UTMC, a state run hospital, and they are also the best in their field in the region, so anything that has to do with my reproductive decisions goes through them. I have to have an endometrial ablation in the next few months, a procedure that will obliterate the lining of my uterus and render me sterile, and I cannot imagine the hoops I would have to jump through if this was being done at one of the Mercy hospitals.

  • fiona64

    Elimination of an ectopic pregnancy;

    This is right at the top of the list of mind-boggling policies, for me. In Catholic hospitals, it is better to let a woman die, or lose her fertility, than to eliminate a pregnancy that is 100 percent non-viable.

    • Mindy McIndy

      They’ve excommunicated nuns for giving the go-ahead for allowing doctors to abort ectopic pregnancies in the past. It’s a travesty. I’m so glad that I am getting this ablation done because even though I’m a lesbian, if there was a cold day in hell and I did end up pregnant, I know that pregnancy would have complications due to my crappy health, and if I ended up in one of those sham hospitals, they would opt to let me die.

    • purrtriarchy

      Pregnancy is natural like breathing! Don’t need no health care!

      • fiona64

        According to Rita and Sid, that is … ;-)

        • Ella Warnock

          Rita and Sid together don’t have a room-temperature IQ.

    • pduggie

      according to wikipedia,

      “An ectopic pregnancy is one of the only cases where the foreseeable death of an embryo is allowed, since it is categorized as an indirect abortion. In Humanae Vitae,Paul VI writes that “the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever”. This view was also advocated by Pius XII in a 1953 address to the Italian Association of Urology.

      Using the Thomistic Principle of Totality (removal of a pathological part to preserve the life of the person) and the Doctrine of Double Effect, the only moral action in an ectopic pregnancy where a woman’s life is directly threatened is the removal of the tube containing the human embryo (salpingectomy). The death of the human embryo is unintended although foreseen”

      So maybe this is being written slightly tendentiously

      • fiona64

        That second paragraph you quoted?

        Wait for it … salpingectomy causes what? Oh yes, a loss of fertility.

        Just. Like. I. Said.

      • lady_black

        Keep cutting and pasting shit you clearly don’t understand, while Catholic “hospitals” keep maiming, killing, and robbing women of their fertility for the crime of pregnancy complication.

      • JamieHaman

        Here is something you missed, Catholic Hospitals also tell Dr. s not to tell women about options such as birth control, or abortion that will be available at another hospital. That’s a big health care fail.

      • Jennifer Starr

        There’s no reason to remove the tube. The doctrine of ‘double effect” is completely archaic. Methotrexate takes care of the pregnancy and preserves the woman’s future fertility.

      • lady_black

        Removing the tube is maiming the woman and robbing her of her fertility. The gold standard is methotrexate.

  • Shan

    “Myth #6: Patients can choose to go to non-Catholic facilities for care. ”

    Something that should have been included in this one is that people who have health insurance through their employer who PICKS a Catholic network don’t have the choice to go to a non-Catholic hospital because if they do, they’re going to get a hefty “out of network” charge. My employer had our health insurance through a Catholic network a few years ago and I’m pretty sure they had NO idea of the potential for some really bad health outcomes.

  • lady_black

    OMG you got THAT right. Catholic “healthcare” is one of my biggest irritants. They shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

  • Ella Warnock

    I was so unpleasantly surprised when we ended up in an area where Tricare contracted with the catholic health system. I just blithely went to one of the hospital gynos, naturally expecting a birth control scrip because of course it’s my decision what kind of BC I want to use, right? This fundie-raised girl had no idea about catholic proscription against birth control. So what, I’m not catholic, said I. Doctor McCatholic got quite the cat-butt face, and I found out that Tricare also had a contract with a private gyno practice in town for heathens like me.

    Pissed me off that I was put into that position, even though Tricare can be pretty limited with contracting choices due to location and the overabundance of catholic health care systems. Thus began my education, and loathing, of catholic hospital bullshit.

    • colleen2

      may I steal “quite the Cat butt face”? So funny :)

      • Ella Warnock

        Absolutely. ;->

        • Phoenix Ares

          I’m requesting permission to use it also and I’ll cite you as a reference if I may.

  • RaBo

    My family grew up Catholic & the hospital in which most of us were born (I have 4 siblings) was a Catholic hospital. Five years ago, when my sister was expecting her son, she had set up to go to that hospital & seeing as she was 36 at the time, she was planning on getting a tubal ligation after delivery by C-section. Her OB was on board with this & obviously had admitting privileges. But days before the scheduled C-section, the hospital told her doctor that they would not allow the tubal ligation to be done. Fortunately, even at the last minute, another nearby hospital was able to take care of her & give my sister the medical treat she wanted. But it make me realize that Catholic “hospitals” are not real hospitals & worry for all the women who do not have the luxury of having a second nearby hospital to chose from.

    • JamieHaman

      Catholic Hospitals are real hospitals if you are a man, or a woman with absolutely zero reproductive issues. Sucks to be female in a Catholic world.

  • grantal

    I still do not understand why the people who use contraceptives and are pro-choice stay with such a misogynistic institution? I left for that very reason. Any establishment that ignores and or abuses half of it’s population and is not quite sure if women are even human is not worth a red cent. I listen to a higher power God and God says we are ALL created equal.

  • Dez

    If I ever was pregnant, my husband is instructed to take me to any hospital as long as it is not catholic or religious. I don’t trust catholic or religious institutions to not push their nonsense and do what is best for me.

    • Tana Siemaszko

      You had better get a list now, and check it constantly, because you no longer can tell whether it’s a Catholic hospital by the name. They buy up non sectarian hospitals by the dozens all the time. The place you went last month may now be Catholic two months from now.

  • A. T.

    This article is terrifying, but thank you. The hospital in my small town *is* Catholic.

  • colleen2

    Thank you for this excellent article. I shall cite it in discussions about the ways that we’re having Catholicism imposed upon us against our wills.

  • Suba gunawardana

    Religious oppression does NOT belong in Healthcare. The two should be mutually exclusive, forever.

  • Phoenix Ares

    I’m in favor of all religious-affiliated hospitals (regardless of denomination) being forced to adhere to ALL medical procedures or driven out of business if the state(s) don’t elect to take the facilities over. Play by the rules or forfeit the game of playing medicine.