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A Catholic Hospital in Iowa Offered Contraception for Decades. Then the Bishop Found Out.

Iowa's Ebonie Bailey used Waterloo's MercyOne Medical Center for the birth of her child and post-delivery contraception before the Catholic-affiliated hospital announced a crackdown on reproductive health care services based on Roman Catholic directives. (Courtesy: Ebonie Bailey)
Iowa's Ebonie Bailey used Waterloo's MercyOne Medical Center for the birth of her child and post-delivery contraception before the Catholic-affiliated hospital announced a crackdown on reproductive health care services based on Roman Catholic directives. (Courtesy: Ebonie Bailey)
April 24, 2019

WATERLOO, Iowa – A Catholic hospital in Iowa that offered contraception for decades has halted those services after Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels decided it was time to more strictly adhere to directives from the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops.

Since April 1, MercyOne Medical Center, formerly called Covenant, has prohibited contraceptive implants and severely limited other hormonal birth control, after already banning new tubal-ligation procedures.

Doula Ebonie Bailey of Waterloo said she is concerned for midwives such as those at Covenant who delivered her baby and provided post-delivery contraception.

"I think that they're in a really, really tough position," she said, "where I feel like potentially they have to choose between what they feel like is morally correct and their job. Their job is what pays their bills."

Iowa ranks second in the nation for the number of acute-care beds operating under Catholic health restrictions, according to MergerWatch. Nationally, the nonprofit reported, the number of acute-care Catholic hospitals grew by 22% between 2001 and 2016, while hospital numbers overall dropped by 6%, reducing women's choices for reproductive-health care.

Karla Solheim is one of several doctors who say they are worried that interventions such as the one in Waterloo could become more common, threatening reproductive-health care access for the one in six women nationwide who names a Catholic hospital as their go-to place for care. Solheim was chair of MercyOne Medical Center's OB-GYN department and performed tubal ligations when the sweeping crackdown on reproductive care began.

"In the field of OB-GYN, we consider contraception not only helping women plan their families, but we really consider it life saving," she said. "Pregnancy can be very dangerous, and in some women, it can be life-threatening."

As a doula, or birth companion whose focus is helping the birthing mother, Bailey attended many deliveries at Covenant but said she learned about the rule change through a social-media post.

"It feels as if I'm being told, 'If you do not agree with my religious preference, you can no longer be a patient here,' " she said, "which I feel like is completely wrong and immoral for someone to say, 'We either have to be on the same side or we can't even play on the same team.' "

The Catholic Church advocates natural family planning, which has a nearly 25% failure rate.


This story was written with original reporting by Amy Littlefield, an investigative reporter at Rewire.News. Follow Littlefield on Twitter at @amylittlefield. Her original story is online here.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA