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ACLU urges City Council to deny $5.5M subsidy to Presence Health

Presence Health, which operations 11 hospitals including Resurrection, expects to cut staff after a terrible 2015.

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

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on Monday urged the City Council to deny a $5.5 million subsidy to Illinois’ largest Catholic health system because of Presence Health’s anti-abortion policy.

“At a time when reproductive health care is under attack, the city of Chicago should work to expand access to the full range of women’s health care — not use taxpayer dollars to support an institution that imposes its religious beliefs to deny patients basic health care,” the ACLU wrote in a letter addressed to all 50 Chicago aldermen.

The letter points to a recent ACLU report that the group claims, “demonstrates that patients are denied medically-indicated care at Catholic institutions when religion takes precedence over medical standards of care.”

“One patient included in this report was a Presence Health patient who was denied a tubal ligation at the time of a C-section when it is safest, and then, after being denied her tubal ligation, was told that she could not get contraception unless she was willing to lie about the reason,” the letter states.

The $5.5 million subsidy was promised four years ago and used to convince Presence Health to bring its headquarters to 200 S. Wacker. In return, the company agreed to bring four community care centers to underserved Chicago neighborhoods.

The subsidy has been stalled ever since because of the health care giant’s policy of following the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

According to the ACLU, that means Presence Health “denies women an array of reproductive care, including contraceptive pregnancy prevention care, tubal ligations and miscarriage treatment.”

On Friday, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the subsidy after a lengthy and sometimes emotional debate on the hot-button issue of abortion.

The vote was 13-7, which is fairly close by Finance Committee standards.

On that day, Chief Medical Officer Laura Concannon gave aldermen a lengthy explanation of the Presence Health policy.

“If there is a medical indication and the life of the mother is threatened, then that would take place. But if it’s truly an elective abortion, we make sure that, through our partner organizations, that this occurs and that we do the best and most safe transfer of care between those facilities,” Concannon said.

As for birth control and family planning, Concannon said Presence Health does not “intervene in the relationship between the patient and the physician.”

“There are many medical indications for birth control. . . . If it’s in the medical decision-making of that physician caring for that patient — if that is medically indicated — then that is the decision of the provider. We do not intervene in that relationship,” she said.

Ald. George Cardenas | Sun-Times file photo

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who has three daughters, said he simply “cannot vote for tax dollars for Presence” based on those criteria.

“One day, God forbid, something happens and one gets pregnant. I would take her to Presence where she will be denied care. She’ll be told, `You’re not welcome here, but we can find you an alternative place for your issue,’ ” Cardenas said.

“This is a personal issue to me. I want my daughters to have a place, to have a city, to have a country where decisions they make — there may be consequences — but they can never feel that they’re being rejected. They’re not wanted. They’re gonna be put someplace else. Leave that to the Middle Ages. This is 2018.”

The full City Council is expected to vote on the Presence Health subsidy on Wednesday, barring a parliamentary maneuver to delay the vote.

The ACLU’s letter never threatens legal action.

Asked if that’s a possibility, ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said, “I can’t imagine the circumstances under which it is. But we’re concerned about this and its obviously something we’ll watch.”