ACLU and New Jersey Public Interest Group Contest Hospital Merger that Reduces Access to Family Healthcare

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
July 8, 2002 12:00 am

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NEWARK, NJ– The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center today filed a motion to intervene in the merger between Burlington County’s Rancocas Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Healthcare Services, in an effort to preserve the availability of family reproductive healthcare services including tubal ligations, vasectomies and abortions.

“”We don’t understand why the Attorney General is approving a merger that does not require the hospitals to ensure the continuity of reproductive health care services for members of the community,”” said Renee Steinhagen of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, who also serves as cooperating attorney for the ACLU of New Jersey.

“”This merger is being treated differently than previous mergers of secular and religious hospitals in New Jersey,”” she added. “”The Attorney General’s office has done an about-face by releasing the hospital from its obligation to provide for the continuation of these vital services.””

Provisions for the continuation of these services was initially assured when Our Lady of Lourdes purchased the assets of Rancocas out of bankruptcy in 1998. The group said it intended to build a separate facility on the hospital campus to “”provide anticipated discontinued tubal ligation and pregnancy terminations.””

But today, the Attorney General’s office is set to finalize its approval of the merger without requiring Our Lady of Lourdes to provide for continuation of reproductive family healthcare services that Rancocas will not provide

Until the beginning of this year, the Attorney General’s office had taken the position that Our Lady of Lourdes was legally responsible for ensuring the continuation of the services Rancocas would not provide. However, in a letter dated January 14, 2002 – the day before Governor Jim McGreevey’s Inauguration – the Attorney General’s office changed its position and released the hospital from its responsibilities.

This radical change in policy and disregard for concern about the availability of family reproductive healthcare services caused the ACLU of New Jersey and the Appleseed Center to file the motion to intervene in the matter on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey, the New Jersey Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and New Jersey Right to Choose.

These organizations have helped ensure the continuation of family reproductive healthcare services in three previous mergers of secular and religious hospitals in the state.

“”In this era of healthcare consolidations, the Catholic Church’s strength in the hospital market should not mean an end to family reproductive healthcare choices,”” said Laurie Lowenstein, Director of New Jersey Right to Choose.

The National ACLU has issued a report, Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights (found at /ReproductiveRights/ReproductiveRights.cfm?ID=10516&c=30), which discusses laws that require entities or individuals to refuse to provide or cover health services that they object to on moral or religious groups.

“The debate over religious refusals to provide certain reproductive health services is often miscast as a straightforward contest between religion and reproductive rights,” said Catherine Weiss, an author of the report and Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “But people of all faiths and no faith need and provide reproductive health care. And institutional religions stand on both sides of the debate about reproductive choice.””

A recent ACLU public opinion poll found that 72 percent of the public agrees that “”religious liberty is not threatened by requiring hospitals to provide basic medical care. We are not talking about limiting a person’s ability to worship, but access to basic health care.””

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