Since the leaking of the Supreme Court’s expected overturning of Roe v. Wade this spring, there has been a seemingly coordinated hostility toward any institutional or cultural opposition to abortion. There have been overt attacks on pregnancy resource centers and FBI raids of pro-lifers’ homes, but perhaps one of the largest, longest-standing pro-life institutions facing an increasing number of attacks from both the federal government and their allies in the corporate media is Catholic hospitals.
With more than 600 hospitals and 1,600 long-term care and other health facilities nationwide, Catholic health providers are a substantial part of the country’s health care infrastructure. One in seven hospital patients in the United States is treated in a Catholic facility, according to the Catholic Health Association. So for pro-abortion activists, undermining the legitimacy of Catholic health systems makes sense as an efficient and far-reaching target. Catholic hospitals, of course, reject the left’s favorite euphemism that abortion is “health care.”
The Seismic Effect of Section 1557
Although hostility toward Catholic health providers goes back years, one could argue it was just a few weeks after the Dobbs decision was handed down in July that the Biden administration sanctioned an all-out war. Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced revised rules to implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would force Catholic health providers to violate their religious beliefs by forcing them to perform abortions and wrongly named “gender-affirming” procedures.
The rule change would alter the definition of “discrimination on the basis of sex” to include “discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or related conditions” including “pregnancy termination.”
The effect of this rule change cannot be overstated considering how removing First Amendment rights and conscience protections from more than 5,000 hospitals across the country — often the only health care providers in rural and minority communities — would exacerbate the existing health care worker shortage. When the HHS comment period on the proposed rule change closed on Oct. 3, there were nearly 74,000 comments submitted.
Of course, the abortion industry immediately hopped on board. The same day as the HHS announcement, the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, not only celebrated the proposed rule change but insinuated that health providers such as Catholic hospitals are “systemic barriers.”
“Today’s undertaking will help people lead healthy lives, without fear of discrimination in how or where they seek care. This proposed rule is a critical step in protecting people who already face discrimination and systemic barriers to accessing health care,” a Planned Parenthood statement read.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic organizations said the proposed rule change would force providers to violate their religious and moral convictions and “threaten our ability to carry out our healing ministries, and others’ to practice medicine.”
Enter Media Allies
Despite such a consequential rule change on the horizon, any media-driven conversation on its impact on religious health care workers and the patients they serve has been nearly non-existent. Instead, as we entered the fall and midterms inched around the corner, the pro-abortion corporate media outlets began publishing their own targeted, selective attacks on Catholic health providers — an obvious piggybacking on Democrats’ last-ditch effort to focus on the issue of abortion ahead of the election.
In September, The New York Times published several pieces in a series titled “Profits Over Patients,” stringing together an ominous narrative about nonprofit (i.e. Catholic) hospitals that “wring money out of patients.”
The irony is that being mission-based and focused on serving the poorest and most vulnerable communities, Catholic hospitals are among the least profitable, especially in the years since Covid. Providence, one of the country’s largest nonprofit hospital chains featured in the NYT’s series, has announced that with operating expenses up and revenue down 5 percent, it has lost $5.2 billion in the first half of this year. Bon Secours Health System, another one of the country’s largest Catholic hospital systems and a target of the Times, also reported operating losses in 2022.
Compare that to for-profit providers that get to cherry-pick their markets and patients, such as HCA Healthcare, which reported that its revenue increased over the first six months of 2022 compared to the first six months of 2021.
By October, The Washinton Post had delivered its own not-so-subtle smear campaign. By omitting inconvenient facts about Catholic hospital policies toward women experiencing pregnancy complications and relying on data from notoriously pro-abortion sources, reporters at The Washinton Post crafted a false narrative that Catholic hospitals are limiting “reproductive care.”
Lying by Omission
Let’s start with the inconvenient facts. The Washington Post report on hospitals “limiting care” places blame squarely on directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which the Post says “prohibits treatment it deems ‘immoral,'” including abortion.
“Those policies can limit treatment options for obstetric care during miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, particularly in the presence of a fetal heartbeat,” the reporters conclude.
The false equivalency of abortion to treatment for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies is not just a talking point that has been used far and wide since the Dobbs ruling — it’s a flat-out lie. Abortion is the intentional taking of a human life, while the Catholic Church and Catholic hospitals have been very clear about the permissibility of procedures that save a mother’s life, even in complicated pregnancies and or miscarriages.
Mary Haddad, president and chief executive of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, writes that when a mother faces an urgent, life-threatening condition, “Catholic health clinicians provide medically indicated treatment, even if it poses a threat to the unborn child or might result in the unintended death of the child.”
Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation and former director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, called The Washington Post’s false claims “infuriating.”
“How many times do they have to say it before these reporters do their basic homework and realize that that is actually not how these hospitals operate?” he told The Federalist. “They’re not going to find people who have ever been denied miscarriage treatment because it doesn’t happen to Catholic hospitals.”
Severino is right. The Post article offers no examples of this, despite teasing “limits” on “treatment options for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies” in the story’s subhead. Instead, the bulk of the report focuses only on examples of women who were denied other “reproductive services” at Catholic hospitals such as IUDs.
Then there is the selective sourcing. Aside from asking hospital representatives to admit that Catholic doctrine affects care, which they have openly stated for 150 years, The Washington Post reporters seemingly go out of their way to cite only openly pro-abortion sources. They quote leftist researchers published in Contraception, a “reproductive health journal,” as well as the openly “liberal health advocacy organization Community Catalyst.”
The executive director of Community Catalyst, Emily Stewart, is a former vice president for Planned Parenthood. The Community Catalyst board chair, Katherine Villers, is a major Democrat donor. It’s no surprise Catalyst would see the market share of Catholic hospitals as a bad thing, as insinuated in the WaPo piece when it warns about the “erosion of care” thanks to the “growing dominance of Catholic hospitals.”
Between administrative attacks from DOJ to HHS and media smear campaigns, the widespread effort to vilify Catholic hospitals to appease the loudest radical abortion voices seems more than coincidental. While these attacks are consistently framed as though they’re predicated by “limits on care,” the truth is that the attempts to drive religious hospitals out of business would do more to end care of the mind, body, and soul for the patients who need it the most.