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Report highlights abortion access at southern hospitals, including in Arkansas

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Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
A new report by Columbia Law School's Law, Rights and Religion Project details abortion restrictions at Protestant and secular hospitals across the south.

A new report shows hospitals affiliated with Protestant religious organizations in the south are restricting access to abortion.

The report from the Law, Rights and Religion Project at Columbia Law School in New York finds hospitals in the south impose strict limits on the procedure, including in cases where patients face potentially life-threatening complications.

The report highlights two state hospitals, Baptist Health and Arkansas Methodist Medical Center.

At Baptist Health, the report says “according to several financial documents, the ‘members’ of the system—responsible for electing the Board of Trustees—are ‘required by the Constitution and By-Laws of Baptist Health to be active members of a Baptist church. 80% of the members must be active members of a Baptist Church in Arkansas that is affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.’”

The report’s co-author Liz Reiner Platt, director of the Law, Rights and Religion Project, says the restrictions were also seen at secular and public hospitals throughout the region.

“When we distributed a survey on hospital reproductive health policies to medical providers and then we did some follow-up interviews, we heard from quite a number of people that the restrictions on abortion at secular, and most often… public hospitals, was every bit as restrictive or almost as restrictive as the policies at nearby Protestant facilities,” Platt said.

Platt says some hospitals have ethics committees, which sometimes include religious leaders, that are focused solely on deciding whether or not to perform an abortion. She says patients who are denied abortions in hospital settings often don’t have any avenues for legal recourse.

“The patient may not even know that they are not being offered a course of treatment that might be offered at a different facility. If they come in and their water has broken at 16 weeks, and they’re told ‘There’s nothing we can do for you,’ I think there’s not necessarily a reason not to take that at face value unless they’re told to go to another facility where an abortion might be available to them,” Platt said.

She says courts sometimes do not recognize complications from pregnancies as enough of an ongoing injury to warrant a malpractice settlement in some cases. She says patients also choose not to seek relief in court sometimes preferring not to relive what could have been a traumatic experience.

Platt says religious-affiliated hospitals also often have committees that decide whether to provide abortions on a case-by-case basis. Those committees can include physicians, but often also include lawyers, hospital administrators and even religious leaders.

Beyond internal pressures, Platt says physicians also sometimes choose to restrict access to abortion due to external factors.

“We heard about fears of losing public or private funding if the hospital became known as providing abortion. We heard of just a kind of widespread cultural climate of fear and hostility of abortion has become so stigmatized that we heard doctors say ‘We just don’t do it. We don’t talk about it, we don’t think about it, it’s just not a service that we provide,’” Platt said.

She says her report sought to detail abortion restrictions at Protestant and secular hospitals, following well-documented research that such restrictions exist at facilities affiliated with the Catholic Church. She says this comes while a case before the U-S Supreme Court could make it much harder for patients to access abortions.

“Now doctors are not only afraid of getting in trouble with their employer, backlash from the community, all the things that they’re experiencing now, they’re now also afraid of breaking the law and possibly going to prison, depending on the call that they make,” Platt said. “I think as restrictive as the situation is now, including for folks who have serious medical conditions, it would certainly become much worse.”

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.
Remington Miller is a reporter/anchor for KUAR News. She was previously an intern at the station as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. Miller is a student at UA Little Rock and studies Journalism and English. She is to graduate in May 2022.