NAPA, CALIFORNIA, March 21, 2012,  (LifeSiteNews.com)—As the debate over religious freedom in health care continues to rage, a California hospital has voluntarily taken steps to bring itself into conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Queen of the Valley Medical Center of Napa, California, has changed its sterilization policy and stopped offering tubal ligations. Although the hospital never offered the procedure as a mere elective form of contraception, officials revised their policy when they realized they were still violating the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic hospitals issued by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 

The “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2009, states, “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.”

Its physicians will continue to perform actions the Church’s moral teachings allow that might result in indirect sterilization – such as hysterectomies or removal of an ovary to stop the spread of cancer.

Sister Marian Schubert, vice president of Mission Integration, said the decision reflects the hospital’s deep commitment to women’s health and its Catholic faith.

Medical center spokeswoman Vanessa deGier chose not to reveal how many tubal ligations had been conducted in the hospital but said all members of its parent company, St. Joseph Health System, now follow “one universal policy.”

The bishop who oversees Napa, Bp. Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, had no involvement nor notice of the change, according to local media reports, but said he supported the administration’s voluntary decision.

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According to recent statistical research, the problem of violating this teaching is not confined to one medical center. To earn a Ph.D. in Church-State Studies at Baylor University, Sandra Hapenney analyzed data from more than 1,100 medical providers before determining that Catholic hospitals in seven states conducted 20,073 sterilizations in three years. The research is posted on her website, CatholicHospitals.org.

She told LifeSiteNews.com, “I’m hoping that the bishops will now know what’s going on and will be able to come up with better or more enforceable ERDs [Ethical and Religious Directives]” so they “can look at what’s actually going on in the hospital and hold [hospital administrators] to higher standards.”

Bishop Vasa has a history of doing just that. In 2010 as bishop of Baker, Oregon, he severed ties between his diocese and St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, over its practice of tubal ligations. “It would be misleading for me to allow St. Charles Bend to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while I am certain that some important tenets of the Ethical and Religious Directives are no longer being observed,” he stated. “It is my responsibility to ensure the hospital is following Catholic principles both in name and in fact.”

In 2011, Bp. Vasa told a gathering of medical professionals, “As physicians who embrace the Catholic faith you must know that you cannot minimize or neglect reason or science in your pursuit of good for your patients. For you, however, as believers in Jesus, that reason will and must always be tempered by, and subject to, faith.”

He began serving as the Episcopal Advisor for the Catholic Medical Association in 2002.

Bp. Vasa is not the only bishop to have been concerned with enforcing Catholic medical ethics. In 2008, Bishop Alvara Corrada, then serving the diocese of Tyler, Texas, forced two Catholic hospitals to stop performing tubal ligations.

This fulfilled the reason Hapenney began her research, which she told LifeSiteNews.com was undertaken in the hopes that “by demonstrating the magnitude of the problem, [the bishops] can develop mechanisms which will help them oversee the issues better and act on them.”