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FRANKFORT, KY -- The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Kentucky today asked the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to conduct a hearing into the reduction of reproductive health services at St. Luke Hospitals and to restore access to reproductive health care in northern Kentucky. In anticipation of a merger with a Catholic-affiliated hospital that restricts reproductive health care, the secular St. Luke Hospitals stopped providing many important family planning services late last year. Today's complaint was filed on behalf of several northern Kentucky residents, including Candice Rich, who was denied basic reproductive health care at St. Luke.
"For years, St. Luke Hospitals served the public of northern Kentucky, meeting the community's reproductive health care needs," said Diana Kasdan, Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "All of this changed when, without community input and in violation of Kentucky law, St. Luke stopped providing services vital to the women of northern Kentucky."
In October 2008, St. Luke Hospitals, without authorization from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, stopped providing many reproductive health services, including birth control counseling and services, IUD insertion, infertility procedures, and tubal ligations. To restore many, but not all of the lost services, St. Luke Hospitals promised to build a separate Women's Health Ambulatory Surgical Center, noting that "reproductive health is a basic women's health service to which any female resident of northern Kentucky should have access. . . . The [women's health center] will preserve reproductive access to health care in northern Kentucky which is so important." St. Luke has yet to establish the center. As a result, women in northern Kentucky – especially low-income women and those who rely on Medicaid for their health care – currently have little or no access to many essential family planning and other reproductive health services.
Today's request was filed, in part, on behalf of Rich, a northern Kentucky resident who contacted the ACLU after St. Luke Hospitals refused to perform a planned postpartum tubal ligation. Despite going to St. Luke Hospitals for all her prenatal care, and repeatedly making clear her desire for a postpartum tubal ligation, the hospital told Rich – two days after her estimated due-date – that a cesarean section was recommended, but that tubal ligations were no longer available at the hospital. At the eleventh hour, Rich was forced to change doctors and go out-of-state in order to give birth and obtain a postpartum tubal ligation.
"The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services should exercise its oversight authority to ensure that women and families in northern Kentucky can get the care they need," said William E. Sharp, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Kentucky.
Previous to today's request, a coalition of groups including the National Women's Law Center, The MergerWatch Project, Planned Parenthood of the Southwest Ohio Region, and the ACLU of Kentucky have twice sent letters to the Cabinet of Health and Family Services asking the agency to investigate St. Luke's failure to open its proposed Ambulatory Surgery Center.
Lawyers on today's request include Kasdan of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and Sharp and David A. Friedman of the ACLU of Kentucky.
Today's request to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is available at: