Giving taxpayer money to Presence Health is an insult to women

SHARE Giving taxpayer money to Presence Health is an insult to women

Presence Health operates 11 hospitals, including Resurrection. | File photo

During a snowstorm in winter 1979, I was hemorrhaging andfound my way to the nearest hospital, St. Joseph’s. It was around the corner from my childhood home.

It turned out I was having a miscarriage, complicated by the fact that I had an intrauterine device.

Understanding that only the removal of the IUD would guarantee my continued existence, I requested that the hospital remove it. They refused, saying that removal of the device would create a spontaneous abortion and, as a Catholic institution, they wouldn’t do it.

As an ardent young feminist, I was a bit abashed that I had chosen refuge at such an inappropriate place, but I was more concerned about the immediate danger. While I was newly married, there was no way I was ready to have a child. More important, it was clear that I was having a miscarriage. If nothing was done, either the fetus or I — or perhaps both of us — would die.

Luckily, there was another hospital nearby. I got into a taxi and made my way there. The IUD was removed and the pregnancy of course was ended.

More than a decade later, I had a similar experience — an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in emergency surgery, the removal of a fallopian tube and the ending of the pregnancy. Luckily, that time I checked in the right hospital, where my life was saved. I went on to have two healthy, wonderful children over the next two years.

I share these stories not because I’m eager to reveal my private history but to point out that the blithe approval of public monies to hospitals that put strictures on women’s health care services is bad public policy and a clear and present danger to women.


I was lucky — there were secular hospitals nearby that would save my life. Increasingly, however, as Catholic hospitals have taken on larger roles in our health care system, other women don’t have the same option.

Abortion and contraceptive services are not just convenient “matters of choice” — they are essential to women’s health and well-being.

While some may debate the thesis that women’s control of reproduction is fundamental to control of our lives, there is no question that it makes a difference in our health. In sharp contrast to all other industrialized nations, more women in the U.S. are dying from complications related to pregnancy. The maternal mortality rate has gone up drastically.

In places like Texas, which has launched a wholesale assault on Planned Parenthood and other secular providers of abortion and contraceptive services, the results are worse. Deaths among pregnant women went up from 19 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 33 deaths per 100,000 in 2011-2012. Although all the reasons for this increase are not clear, one thing is: It is partially a consequence of the severe cuts to family planning services by the 2011 Texas legislature.

Some Chicago aldermen argued that the allocation of TIF funds to Presence Health, the largest Catholic health system in the state — was justified because poor and minorities need the health care services it provides. But that is exactly the point. The health care needs of half the population aren’t served by Catholic hospitals. Those who need or want contraceptives for family planning can’t find them there.

The American Civil Liberties Union says Catholic hospitals’ directives “prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion, even when a woman’s life or health is jeopardized by a pregnancy.”

When the city provides TIF funds to developers and others it demands a return on its investment and an adherence to the laws of the city regarding wages and other policies — no waivers accepted.

That same logic should apply to Presence Health System. It’s fine to give subsidies as long as those that receive them guarantee that women — all women — can have abortions and obtain contraceptive services.

It’s not simply a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of life and death.

Marilyn Katzis an activist, writer and president of MK Communications in Chicago.

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