Catholic Health Care and Women's Health

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Catholic health care facilities account for approximately one sixth of the U.S. health care market, have recently demonstrated successful growth, and serve as the only local hospital in certain remote locations. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services is a set of guidelines created and revised by church leaders that applies the church's teaching, particularly as it relates to concern for human dignity, to modern-day medical practice; all Catholic health care facilities and providers within these facilities are required to abide. Strict interpretation of these directives limits family planning and most infertility services. Many women, however, do not anticipate differences to reproductive health care based on Catholic affiliation, and recent patient reports and legal enactments have highlighted the tension that arises when women are unable to receive medically indicated family planning services. In this article, I demonstrate that reproductive health care services are not consistently prohibited and that clinics often do not inform patients when scheduling appointments when restrictions exist. I highlight ethical concerns about patient autonomy as it relates to modern-day practice and recommend solutions including greater transparency and efforts to improve uniformity of practice at Catholic health care facilities.

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