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Thursday, June 2, 2016 12:07 am

Regulating religious restrictions at Catholic hospitals

Hospitals would have to offer women alternatives


Angela Valavanis, an Evanston woman who had a history of complications during pregnancy, felt betrayed by her obstetrician gynecologist of 15 years when she was denied a tubal ligation after the doctor’s medical practice had been sold to a Roman Catholic hospital.

“I felt betrayed by a lack of information that would have led me to choose to give birth at a different hospital,” Valavanis said in a video testimony.

According to health care reform advocates, Catholic hospitals have been denying patients their rights to standard reproductive health care services.

Across the country, health care options for pregnant women have not been based on their individual medical needs, but based on whether or not the hospitals have restrictions based on religion.

As of May 31, a bill requiring all hospitals in Illinois to offer their patients the option of treatment, a referral or the ability to transfer to a different health care facility for care passed through both chambers after being tabled during last year’s legislative session.

Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, the bill’s sponsor, said this bill is a common-sense change to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

According to a 2016 report from the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois, Catholic hospitals represent 29.2 percent of the hospitals in the state.

For Valavanis, the issue started when her OB-GYN told her that she could no longer prescribe her birth control after the doctor had sold the practice to Presence Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston. Later on, Valavanis became pregnant and started to experience complications at 36 weeks. After being in labor for three days, Valavanis was told that she would need a cesarean section. At that point, she also requested to have her tubes tied. Her request was denied due to the religious-based restrictions in place.

Valavanis was one of four women who told their stories to organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union in order to heighten awareness about what the organization describes as “discrimination and harm caused by Catholic hospitals across the United States.”

Lorie Chaiten, director of the Reproductive Rights Project for the ACLU of Illinois, believes that it is important for a patient who is in need of care to at the very least receive get information about their options.

“With this law in place, a patient can expect to get the proper information and never be afraid that information is being withheld because of religious restrictions,” Chaiten said.

Brigid Leahy, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said in a press release that she has been waiting for a vote since the bill passed in the Illinois Senate last year.

“This bill is about the health and safety of the patients. Patients need to have complete and medically accurate information to make informed health care decisions,” Leahy said.

The ACLU report indicated that one in six hospitals abide by Catholic restrictions. This means that under a Catholic hospital’s care a woman may be denied information about contraception options, treatment while going through a miscarriage, tubal ligations and treatment for other abnormal complications while pregnant.

The ACLU report also discussed the myths attached to health care options for pregnant women. The report said it is a common misconception that a patient who does not want her care to be influenced by Catholic beliefs can choose to go to another hospital.

The report explained that insurance barriers can play a major role in a patient’s options. The woman has a choice to either stick with the Catholic hospital and accept the restrictions or face thousands of dollars in out-of-network costs.

“As I talk to other women about this issue, they are always surprised,” Valavanis said. “I am not alone.”

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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