Maternal health and reproductive rights are global concerns
In Texas, a Catholic bishop made two hospitals cease doing tube-tying operations for women who are not going to have more babies. In Arizona, a nun was excommunicated and the hospital where she works was expelled from the church after 116 years for allowing doctors to terminate a pregnancy to save a woman's life. At the same time, some doctors and other health professionals have faced disciplinary action for refusing to perform procedures or provide medications that go against their religious beliefs.
Should Catholic hospitals be able to restrict doctors from performing common and legal medical practices? Do such restrictions unfairly impinge on the rights of non-Catholic patients and doctors, particularly those in rural or underserved areas where alternative hospitals are not readily available?
Everyday, somewhere and somehow, the Catholic church probably makes makes an institutional decision that I will find deeply troubling. That certain Catholic hospitals refuse to perform common medical practices such as terminating pregnancies to save a mother's life, is only one example.
Having said this, we shouldn't allow the desire to throw stones at the Catholic church distract us from the fact that all these questions haunt our public debates about reproductive rights policy as well. Make no mistake. That this question should even be raised is as much an indictment of our national health care system -- or woeful lack thereof -- as it is of Catholicism. The troubling fact is, many communities in the United States are so underserved by either state or federal budgets, that primary health care is sometimes only provided -- especially to the poorest, and the neediest -- through hospitals run by the Catholic church.
We also can't be so myopic as to see this only as a problem in Texas, or Arizona or other American states. On the contrary, there is no single global issue that is more desperately in need of care, funding and action than that of women's maternal health and reproductive rights. Speaking as I do from the context of a broadly ecumenical seminary, I believe it is crucial that the issue of reproductive choice and maternal health stay at the forefront of our discussions. And not just as public policy issues but as deeply theological concerns. My own faith-position on the necessity of supporting women's reproductive rights grows out not just of my feminism but my theological view of human freedom and universal human value.
Here at Union Theological Seminary, we feel so strongly about women's health care concerns around the world, that we are working very hard, daily, to include these questions into our core curriculum. It is absolutely crucial for the world's religious leaders not to be afraid of, or shy away from, these issues. We hope to engage in a multi-faith discussion that will unite Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other people of faith. Let's face it, how can any church or any community hope to flourish if it does not value the lives and health of its women, the mothers of us all?
January 24, 2011; 10:54 PM ET
women’s maternal health and reproductive rights
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