Did a Catholic healthcare org just agree to hand out contraception under pressure from the ACLU?
ST. LOUIS, Missouri, August 29, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, a major Catholic healthcare provider has apparently committed to provide artificial contraception at a chain of clinics it has taken over from Walgreens, the for-profit pharmaceutical chain.
“If they are really going to be handing out contraception,” said Michael Hichborn of the Catholic watchdog organization, the Lepanto Institute, “then they will be in contradiction of Catholic teaching.”
SSM Health came under fire when it announced jointly with Walgreens that the Catholic group of 18 hospitals and 65 clinics would take over 26 “express” healthcare clinics already operating in Walgreens pharmacies in the St. Louis area.
“We are on the cutting edge when it comes to care for heart, stroke, maternity, children, cancer, sleep disorders, and weight loss,” SSM Health said in a statement on the takeover. But SSM, as an institution founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, does not provide artificial contraception because this is forbidden by Catholic doctrine — or not until now.
Statements by SSM spokesman Jason Merrill and Walgreens’ Emily Hartwig-Mekstan indicate that Walgreens health clinics will indeed be providing artificial contraception as they did in the past.
The joint statement dated August 25 promised “SSM Health will continue to offer the same services that are currently available at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics today.” As for Hartwig-Mekstan, she is quoted in an August 18 story saying, Walgreens clinics “do provide a range of contraceptive services.”
Merrill also was paraphrased in one story as confirming that SSM-run Walgreens clinics will dispense one-month supplies of birth control pills. When questioned further by LifeSiteNews, however, Merrill referred to the joint statement that read, in part, “SSM Health will continue to offer the same services that are currently available at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics today stated.”
Asked how dispensing birth control pills could be reconciled to SSM’s Catholic mission, Merrill referred to SSM’s own statement, which read, in part: “SSM Health is proud to treat every patient with dignity and respect. This commitment to inclusivity, justice and equality defines who we are as a Mission-and values-driven organization. In fact, we have been recognized as a leader in LGBT healthcare equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.”
But “nothing in the (SSM Health) statement,” said Lorie Chaiten of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, “explains how they will comply with the Catholic healthcare restrictions in these clinics.”
The statement does address another ACLU “concern” — that a Catholic hospital would turn away homosexual patients because their sexual practices are condemned by Church teaching.
The Lepanto Institute’s Hichborn isn’t any more certain than the ACLU about SSM’s intentions. But it if were to supply birth control pills, he said, “the archbishop of St. Louis, Robert Carlson, should order them to cease calling themselves a Catholic organization.”
SSM Health, Public Relations
Diane McKillip, Manager, Public Relations
10101 Woodfield Lane, St. Louis, MO 63132