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Orange County Hospital Bans Elective Abortions After Forming Partnership With Catholic Group

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Doctor (Photo by Khamidulin Sergey via Shutterstock)
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One of the largest hospitals in Orange County has decided to ban elective abortions, shortly after entering into a partnership with a Catholic hospital group.Last week Hoag Memorial Hospital told its doctors about the decision. The hospital said that the decision was made completely independently of the fact that they are now in a partnership with a Catholic group, according to the Orange County Register via City News Service.

Hoag recently finalized a partnership with St. Joseph Health System, which is owned by a Catholic charity. As the Hoag partnership is finalized, St. Joseph Health System controls about one third of the county's health care through its six hospitals and clinics affiliated with them, the Register reports. St. Joseph does follow the Catholic practices, including prohibiting abortions and contraceptive practices, according to the Register. (Eds. note: an earlier version and headline of this story incorrectly stated that Hoag Memorial Hospital was purchased by St. Joseph Health System, when in fact the hospital has only entered a partnership with the group.)

The doctors at the hospital were promised that its policies on birth control would be separate from St. Joseph's.

The company said that the decision is not religious, but then it didn't really give a decent, jargon-free answer about why it did (Update: We've obtained a copy of a letter explaining the decision below.)

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"This was not a religious decision for Hoag," the hospital's CEO Robert Braithwaite told the Register. "The board carefully examined all women's services at Hoag. We understand it's not a popular decision for some people in the community, and we think it was the right decision based on the quality-volume correlation.''

One Hoag gynecologist told the OC Register that we wasn't happy with the new policy, and he was worried that the decision was religiously motivated. Dr. Alberto Mendivil told the Register, "With this directive, we are coming under the influence of the sisters of St. Joseph."

UPDATE 05/05: LAist has obtained a copy of the letter that was sent to employees about the decision from Braithwaite. We've reprinted excerpts of it below:


In order to provide our patients the highest level of quality and care at all times, and as a result of the affiliation, direct abortions (scheduled, non-emergent, patient preference terminations of pregnancy) will no longer occur at Hoag. We are choosing to refer these procedures to alternative sites that we know to be consistent with Hoag quality and values, with dedicated, specialty-trained providers of family planning services.

In any business, change is necessary for the advancement of the organization - and Hoag is no different. We found that in our community, the vast majority of these procedures are already performed at sites other than Hoag facilities - such as physicianʼs offices, independent surgery centers, UCI, Planned Parenthood, and Family Planning Associates. In fact, in each of the past two years fewer than 100 of these procedures have been performed at Hoag facilities. Given the volumes are no longer sufficient to maintain the level of quality and safety to which Hoag strives, this is an
appropriate change. Discontinuation of direct abortions at Hoag does not affect or change existing protocols for the following:
• Management of ectopic pregnancy
• Management of blighted ovum, threatened and inevitable miscarriage
• Management of non-viable pregnancy (lack of fetal cardiac activity)
• Emergency services for women experiencing complications related to pregnancy termination at other facilities
• Dispensation of emergency contraception following rape or sexual assault

The Womenʼs Health Institute provides critical services in our community and will continue to do so. As such, the Hoag Board of Directors took steps to create a separate structure and set up a special committee of the Board with separate governance, management and financial oversight for the Womenʼs Health Institute. The special committee will ensure that women continue to have access to all other reproductive and family planning services at Hoag including:
• Permanent sterilization including postpartum tubal ligation, ligation at time of cesarean
delivery, laparoscopic tubal ligation/coagulation/transection, hysteroscopic tubal occlusion
• As independent physicians, contraception including counseling, prescribing, placement of LARC (long-acting reversible contraception i.e. IUD) and dispensation of emergency
contraception will not change.

Employee health benefits for reproductive services will not change as a result of the affiliation. Physician referral patterns, consultative services and access to trusted, high quality providers will also not change. The physician-patient relationship and shared decision making are not limited by the discontinuation of this procedure at Hoag.

While we understand the change in venue for this procedure might be difficult for some, the formation of Covenant Health Network is predicated on transforming the delivery of care and developing new community partnerships. As an example, the decision to discontinue inpatient pediatric services over five years ago ultimately resulted in the formal affiliation with CHOC. This affiliation transformed the delivery of pediatric care with such elements as the introduction of telemedicine, timely specialty consultations and transport to the highest level of care for patients with emergency conditions, the
establishment of a CHOC sub specialty clinic at Hoag, comprehensive perinatal services at the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center, best practice sharing and cross training for our physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and respiratory therapists, and a new state-of-the-art CHOC facility now serving the community.

The Womenʼs Health Institute has provided unparalleled health care since its inception and our commitment continues. We appreciate your ongoing feedback, dedication and service to Hoag and the patients we care for on a daily basis.