Catholic hospital administrators ordered doctors practicing in a small Oklahoma city to stop prescribing contraceptives for birth control purposes, according to a report by the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise.
The directive would affect all doctors affiliated with Jane Phillips Medical Center, leaving just one OB-GYN who can prescribe birth control in a city with more than 18,500 women.
A spokesperson for St. John Health System, which owns Jane Phillips, says St. John denies giving such an order.
“I was told that my physician has been instructed that they can no longer write prescriptions for birth control as birth control. This effects me because I take birth control as birth control. There are other ways to receive birth control, for example headaches, cramps, excessive bleeding — but I have none of those symptoms,” a local woman, who requested anonymity, told the Examiner-Enterprise.
Doctors were instructed to stop prescribing contraceptive for birth control during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, according to the Examiner-Enterprise. St. John spokesperson Joy McGill would not comment on the alleged meeting.
Jane Phillips, like most Catholic hospitals, operates under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services, guidelines from the Church that bar doctors from “promoting or condoning” contraceptive practices. The Directives do not prohibit contraceptive prescriptions outright.
“While our physicians agree to abide by the Directives, they also have the ability to prescribe medications, including hormonal medications, in accordance with their independent professional medical judgment,” a St. John representative said in a statement.
The order to restrict contraceptives reportedly came from Ascension Health, a non-profit Catholic health services company that acquired St. John Health System in 2013. Women’s health advocates warn that the growing influence of Catholic health systems nationally bodes poorly for reproductive services, as seen in Bartlesville. According to a joint report by the American Civil Liberties Union and the MergerWatch Project, ten of the twenty-five largest hospital systems in 2011 were Catholic-sponsored.
Sheila Reynerston, Advocacy Coordinator for the MergerWatch Project, told The Nation that Ascension’s directive to Bartlesville doctors represents “an unacceptable intrusion into local health care, denying women the health care they need and handcuffing physicians who want to practice medicine appropriately.”
A Facebook page protesting the alleged directive garnered more than 700 “likes” in less than three days. “We believe that everyone has a right to healthcare that is free from religious agenda,” reads the page’s description.
No one from Ascension Health could be reached for comment.
UPDATE (03/31/2014, 9:10 PM): This post has been updated to include further comment from St. John Medical System.