Friday, November 30, 2012

Making a Difference: MergerWatch

Across the U.S., financial difficulties are leading hospitals to merge with other hospitals or health systems. When secular hospitals merge with religious health systems that forbid abortion, sterilization, in-vitro fertilization, and contraception, patients often lose access to much-needed reproductive health services.

For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that physicians and community members decried Abington Memorial Hospital's plan to stop performing abortions upon merging with Holy Redeemer Health System, a Catholic institution. Women's eNews reports that Waterbury Hospital would adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Services upon its planned merger with Saint Mary's Hospital -- meaning an end to tubal ligations, contraception, and emergency abortions there.

Fortunately, one organization is working to protect reproductive rights in the face of such mergers. MergerWatch advocates for reproductive health care access when it is threatened by hospital mergers with religious institutions. Founded in 1996 at the Education Fund of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, MergerWatch was created when an outpatient clinic in Troy, NY could not longer provide contraceptive services after a merger between secular and religious hospitals.

MergerWatch provides analysis of proposed hospital mergers, assistance with interventions in state hospital regulatory oversight, public education, and support for grassroots organizing. Its advocacy has prevented mergers that would have jeopardized patients' reproductive health services, or helped modify mergers so that reproductive health services could continue to be offered. It has also developed creative solutions to proposed mergers, such as "hospital-beside-a-hospital" plans.

MergerWatch has released a range of publications on religious institutions and reproductive rights. Not only do their publications address problematic hospital mergers, but also pharmacist refusals to dispense emergency contraception and the importance of emergency contraception access for rape victims.

For more information on MergerWatch, visit their website.

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