Hospital mergers don’t typically come to mind when thinking about threats to reproductive health.  But, because Catholic hospitals do not provide certain reproductive health services, including contraception, abortion, tubal ligation and vasectomies, a wave of mergers between secular (and even public) hospitals and Catholic affiliated hospitals in Washington state is doing just that.

If all of the proposed mergers in the state were to be completed, almost half of Washington’s hospital beds would be controlled by Catholic health systems. In fact, all of the beds in 10 of Washington’s 39 counties could be subject to religious restrictions, forcing residents to travel significant distances to find a secular hospital.  If the proposed merger between Harrison Medical Center and Franciscan Health Systems is completed, for example, residents in Bremerton would have to take an hour long ferry ride to get to the next closest acute care hospital.

This leaves people unable to access necessary reproductive care. A woman who has a Cesarean section and wants a tubal ligation would be have to either deliver her child at a hospital far from home or be forced to have two separate surgeries. And, this is all happening in a state that has strong protections for reproductive health care [PDF].  There is still time. Local and national advocates, including NWLC, are challenging these mergers and working to ensure that women have continued access to reproductive health care.