Report shows anti-abortion restrictions rule Southern hospitals

Abortion care in the United States is in crisis.

A new Columbia Law School study reveals that hospitals across Southern states impose harsh restrictions on abortion care, leading to delays and denial of abortion care to patients with severe pregnancy complications.

Notably, “The Southern Hospitals Report: Faith, Culture, and Abortion Bans in the U.S. and South” found that these restrictions are prevalent in religious and secular hospitals alike because of the religious attitudes of hospital administrators, boards and communities. In fact, Elizabeth Reiner Platt, co-author of the study and director of the Law, Rights and Religion Project at Columbia University, explains that such restrictions have become a “generalized standard of care” at hospitals across the South.

The report is a result of a two-year investigation that includes interviews with hospital administrators, religious leaders and medical providers. While abortion restrictions in Catholic hospitals are well documented, this study sought to uncover similar barriers in Protestant hospitals that play a significant role in health care in the South.  The researchers unearthed important findings.

To begin with, many large Southern hospital systems still have formalized ties with religious organizations, such as state Baptist conventions and Methodist conventions. For example, the state Baptist conventions for Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee elect board members to the Baptist Memorial Health Care System. These religious organizations typically appoint someone to the hospital systems’ board of trustees. These boards are tasked with “making major financial, ethical and medical decisions for the hospital systems.”

Second, abortion restrictions are rampant in Protestant hospital systems. These hospitals utilize antiquated, pre Roe v. Wade-style abortion committees to evaluate doctors’ requests to perform an abortion. In some religious hospitals, these boards include faith leaders. For instance, at the Baptist Health System facilities in Texas, requests for abortions are determined by a committee that includes the facility’s director of pastoral care of staff chaplain.

Sadly, the report also reveals that abortion restrictions are not just prevalent in religious medical centers, but even in secular and public hospitals. Investigators learned through interviews that state laws, funding restrictions, the religious beliefs of hospital boards or administrators and social pressure influence these restrictions. A doctor in a public facility explained that “if the hospital decided to do abortions there and people knew about it, there would be public outrage” while another secular hospital limited abortion because of anti-choice board members.



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These findings show that the Religious Right’s anti-abortion views infiltrate abortion care in the South. This is especially unnerving as we await the oral arguments in the Mississippi abortion restriction case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case threatens to make abortion access in clinics nonexistent. As such, abortion care in emergency medical situations will undoubtedly increase. Yet, this report shows that hospital providers in the South provide restrictive abortion care, which could be health-endangering. In fact, recent studies show that a nationwide abortion ban would lead to a 21 percent increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths and a 33 percent increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women.

There has never been a more urgent time to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The Freedom From Religion Foundation submitted formal testimony in support of this act, and thanks to the work of many activist citizens, including FFRF members, it passed the House.

It is now in the Senate — where it faces a lot of resistance. Call your senators to tell them to work to pass this important piece of abortion legislation so that these hundreds of restrictions are nullified.

Read the full report here. It exposes the perilous nature of abortion access in a large portion of the country — reinforcing the urgency of legislation to safeguard abortion rights.

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