According to interviews with US physicians, some Roman Catholic hospitals not only refuse to provide some women's health services like abortion, but may also prevent doctors from referring women to facilities that would provide them.
Services including sterilization, contraception and fertility services can be similarly prohibited, according to the small study.
"One thing that did surprise me is that some hospitals really do seem to leave women with little to no information when it comes to abortion care specifically," said lead author Dr. Debra Stulberg of the University of Chicago. "For other services, whether it's something a Catholic hospital allows or not, they will facilitate getting the appointment, sending records, etc.," she told Reuters Health.
"But I'm not speaking across the board for everyone, it wasn't always black and white," Stulberg said.
Catholic healthcare institutions make up 15 percent of acute care hospitals in the US, and clinicians employed in them are bound by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives prohibit some reproductive healthcare services, but some Catholic theologians still believe doctors should openly explain all options to their patients, even ones they are not able to provide.
Professional ethics guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that clinicians who deny patients reproductive services for moral or religious reasons provide a timely referral to prevent patient harm, but whether or not physicians at Catholic facilities actually make these referrals is unclear, the authors write in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.