Hospital Merger Threatens Reproductive Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
August 16, 2000 12:00 am

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL — The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida along with three national advocacy organizations today filed a federal lawsuit against the City of St. Petersburg and two local healthcare management systems saying that the insertion of religious beliefs into the policy of a public hospital violates the separation between church and state.

Under the agreement, Bayfront Medical Center would restrict abortion, sterilization, emergency contraception and artificial insemination in accordance with the religious tenets of the Roman Catholic Church.

“It is unconstitutional for a religious gatekeeper to determine the nature of health care services in a public hospital,” said ACLU of Florida cooperating attorney Marcia Cohen.

Catholic hospitals are required to abide by the Roman Catholic Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care. In implementing its new alliance, Bayfront required its staff to sign a statement expressing a commitment to follow the ethical directives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Bayfront Medical Center serves patients of many different faiths and backgrounds whose religious freedom must be protected,” said Marcia Cohen. Their health care choices should be based on the best medical advice, not on religious restrictions.”

Since 1968, St. Petersburg has agreed to allow its city-owned medical facility to be run by Bayfront. However, problems began in 1997 when Bayfront entered into an alliance with five other hospitals, including two Catholic ones, forming the BayCare Alliance.

According to the court papers, the BayCare alliance was negotiated in private, violating Florida’s open meetings law. Bayfront also violated Florida’s public records law by refusing to provide various documents to the public.

The ACLU of Florida, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Organization for Women Foundation, Inc., Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, Inc., and local Pinellas County residents Jeanie Blue, Beth Lindenberg, Lee DeCesare and Irene Miller ask that the court prohibit the Bayfront Medical Center from being run in accordance to religious dictates.

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