Betrayed by Catholic Health Care

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By Angela Valavanis, mother, wife, entrepreneur

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Religion and medical care should never mix. For me, though, in one of the most crucial medical episodes of my life, they did. My experience has made me wake up and pay more attention to the erosion of women’s healthcare services nationwide as Catholic entities purchase our community hospitals.  

When I went in for the standard, 36-week checkup for my pregnancy in May 2013, my amniotic fluid levels had gone way down—to a dangerous level—so my doctors told me they needed to induce my labor. The short version of my birth story is that I was in labor for three days, but never dilated enough for a vaginal delivery, not even with an epidural. There was no choice: I had to have a C-section.

When they told me that was the case, I said, “Well, the only good thing about that is that you can tie my tubes while you are in there. We don’t want to have any more children.” That’s exactly what my mother had done in the 1970s and, as far as I knew, it was a pretty standard occurrence.

It was at that moment that my doctors told me there was a hospital policy prohibiting tubal ligations. I was stunned. Never in all of my tours of the hospital, birthing classes, or appointments with my doctor had I ever been informed that the Catholic hospital offered a lower standard of care than the secular hospital across town. I was furious; but when you are heading in for an emergency surgery, you can’t focus on politics or activism. I knew I needed to accept the hospital’s policy and focus on a healthy delivery of my son. (I’m thankful that the surgery did, indeed, go well for both of us.)

I didn’t know it then, but there would be yet another insult upon injury to come. In a follow up appointment with my doctor a few months later, I received another shocking bit of information. My doctor told me that she was no longer able to prescribe any form of birth control. Sometime earlier that year, she had sold her practice to the same Catholic hospital where my children were delivered. I knew about it at the time, but didn’t know it would have any direct effect on me. I hadn’t been using birth control while I was pregnant, of course, so the issue hadn’t surfaced for me earlier.

I had been going to the same OB/GYN practice for almost 15 years—seeing one doctor for about 5 years, and this doctor for about 10. I felt totally betrayed by her. It was as if she sold out all of her patients. We suddenly had fewer reproductive health choices than we had before. I changed doctors immediately after that visit. But I should not have had to do that. Now, I want to make sure other women get what I didn’t: the standard and evidence-based reproductive care they deserve.