4 Archaic Hospital Rules That Are Still Hurting Women

by Annamarya Scaccia

Every person deserves medically accurate and culturally appropriate health care. Despite what conservative lawmakers may say, access to health care is not a privilege, but a right that everyone deserves. Yet, millions of people are still denied medical care, whether by law or by private policy, putting their health and lives at risk. In fact, here are four archaic hospital rules that are still hurting women because they put a doctor's morals before a patient's rights.

The majority of these harmful, antiquated rules are implemented at hospitals that comply with Catholic health care directives. A complex web of mergers and acquisitions means that one in six hospitals beds are found in such facilities, even if they are identified as secular on the surface, according to the joint report by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch. The report also found that, in some states, more than 40 percent of beds are in a Catholic hospital, which means that women in those states have little access to proper and comprehensive reproductive health care.

It's well-known that facilities that follow the Catholic medical directives deny women access to abortion and sterilization. But there are other medical rights that women are denied because religious doctrine puts a physician's moral beliefs above what is best for a patient. Read on to find out what rules are putting women's health at risk.

Abortions Are Never Allowed, Even During A Miscarriage

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" expressly forbids abortion procedures under any circumstance — even in the case of a miscarriage, according to New Republic. Instead, the USCCB directives direct health care providers at Catholic hospitals "to offer compassionate physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual care to those persons who have suffered from the trauma of abortion."

Here's the thing: "Abortion trauma" isn't real. It's a myth propagated by anti-choice activists to admonish abortion. Abortion opponents even came up with a term for this made-up phenomenon — "post abortion stress syndrome" — which, according to Psychology Today, is not accepted by the American Psychiatric Association or the American Psychological Association.

What is real, however, is the potentially fatal harm caused by not granting women their constitutionally protected right to an abortion. A 2016 reported by the American Civil Liberties Union detailed a few cases where women who were denied emergency abortions at Catholic hospitals as part of miscarriage management almost died. The pregnancy complications they were experiencing became more severe the longer they were forced to wait for proper care, according to the ACLU report.

A Tubal Ligation Is Prohibited, Despite A Patient's Request

Abortion isn't the only procedure that USCCB is firmly against. The group's religious care directive also prohibits doctors from performing tubal ligation — otherwise known as "getting your tubes tied" — at the time of delivery, The Atlantic reported. It is quite common for women to have their tubes tied right after giving birth because that is the time the procedure is safest, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your fallopian tubes are cut, then tied or blocked, preventing pregnancy permanently.

But, under USCCB doctrine, sterilization is forbidden, which means women who go into labor at a Catholic hospital will be denied a tubal ligation, even if they've explicitly requested the procedure. And that means, in order to receive this essential reproductive health care, they would have to find another facility, and undergo another — unnecessary — surgery, increasing their risk of infections or other health complications, according to The Atlantic. Not only that, but scheduling a separate surgery would mean dealing with another set of logistical hurdles that may put a woman's financial well-being at risk, too.

Living Wills May Not Be Honored

A living will — otherwise known as an advance healthcare directive — is a written legal document that details a person's wishes in regard to their medical care if they're no longer able to make informed decisions. In essence, a living will dictates your end-of-life care, preserving your health care rights when you're unable to provide verbal or written consent.

At at Catholic medical facility, however, religious doctrine directs that hospital staff do whatever they can to "preserve" a patient's life, even if that patient's advance directive dictates otherwise. As the National Catholic Register put it, a living will "enables forward-looking medical planning, but needlessly compromises physician conscience rights." In other words, under USCCB doctrine, a doctor's religious beliefs would trump a patient's medical wishes, which means a living will may not be honored at religious hospitals, according to Forbes.

In addition to trampling on a patient's rights, denying end-of-life care not only prolongs the suffering of women, but of their families as well. Every person deserves a peaceful death, and someone else's beliefs shouldn't change that.

Pressure To Breastfeed At All Costs

A large body of research has well-documented the health benefits of nursing. Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for baby by giving them the essential nutrients, vitamins, proteins, fats, and antibodies that aid their development. But not every new parent can or wants to nurse, and so they use formula feeding instead. Although nursing may have added benefits, experts still consider formula feeding a healthy choice for your baby because, in the end, fed is best.

Still, that doesn't mean hospitals do not pressure new mothers to breastfeed at all costs. Many facilities have adopted global guidelines set by UNICEF and the World Health Organization in the late 1980s that promote exclusive breastfeeding after birth. Although the intention is good, enforcement of these guidelines implemented at designated "baby-friendly" hospitals and birthing centers end up denying new parents formula supplementation, according to The Atlantic. But taking a breastfeeding-at-all-costs approach harms new mothers who can't nurse right away, or who are having difficult producing milk. And, in turn, that can compromise the health of a newborn by depriving them of necessary nutrients found in formula and putting them at risk for starvation, Forbes reported.

There's enough evidence to prove that these archaic hospital rules continue to threaten women's health and lives. It's about time that hospitals and health care providers put their patient's health and rights first, instead of following their so-called conscience.

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