Iowa Bishop Bans Contraception, Sterilization at Catholic Hospitals

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 30, 2019   

Abp. Michael Jackels is enforcing Catholic teaching

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Left is crying foul after an archbishop banned voluntary sterilizations and contraceptives at Catholic health care facilities in his diocese. 

For several months, Abp. Michael Jackels of the archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa has been working with the Catholic hospitals and health care facilities in the state to implement the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) revised guidelines for Catholic health care services.

While the main focus of the revisions centered on the aspects of new partnerships between health care providers, these guidelines reaffirmed the pastoral and spiritual responsibilities of Catholic health care and the necessity of care for the patient from the moment of conception to the point of natural death. 

There are almost 20 Catholic hospitals in Iowa representing about 40% of all hospitals spread over four dioceses. In December, Covenant Medical Center in the archdiocese of Dubuque announced it would stop performing voluntary sterilizations via vasectomies and tubal ligations. MercyOne, formerly Mercy Medical, and CHI Health are some of the other Catholic hospitals in the state.

In an investigative report by Rewire.News, doctors, nurses and midwives spoke out against the new policy during a meeting in September 2018 fearing they would be guilty of practicing malpractice.

According to a handout obtained by Rewire.News, Abp. Jackels called these practices a "serious moral problem" and said voluntary sterilizations "should be completely moved out of and separated from Covenant Medical Center."

Doctor Suzy Lipinski, the former chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Covenant, said, "We all knew we were violating Catholic hospital guidelines, but we believed we were giving good health care, and so we did what we needed to do to take care of our patients. We just thought we had a workaround that was acceptable."


In the 1980s, Covenant was formed by the merger of St. Francis Hospital and Schoitz Medical Center. It was administered by the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters until 2016. While the two buildings were in operation, immoral procedures were performed at the Schoitz building. After the consolidation into one building, immoral procedures would be performed in a "condominimized [sic] surgical suite that would remain outside the consolidated assets of Covenant Medical Center." 

Jackels claimed that loophole was never meant to be permanent and gave hospital administrators until Dec. 1, 2018 to stop performing immoral procedures. 

For nearly 30 years, the staff at Covenant was performing voluntary sterilizations and prescribing contraception. It is unclear if other immoral procedures such as abortion or in vitro fertility treatments were also performed.

Church Militant spoke with Dr. Donna Harrison, the director of the American Association of Pro-Life Ob-Gyns (AAPLOG), who said there are a bunch of legitimate reasons, such as endometriosis, hemorrhaging and heavy menstrual bleeding, where the standard course of treatment is oral contraceptives.

"There are other ways to handle them," she explained.

Harrison explained that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have recently redefined the technical definition of pregnancy to counter the claim that contraception is abortifacient.

According to ACOG, pregnancy begins five to nine days after fertilization. 

To what extent ACOG is underwritten by the contraceptive and pharmaceutical industries is not known. In 2011, ACOG was asked by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to provide greater accountability and transparency in their financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. The letter noted this was after The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that "industry representatives and 10 major drug companies had formed a coalition to promote looser restrictions on off-label marketing,"

According to ACOG's "Facts Are Important" bulletin published in May 2014, pregnancy happens between five and nine days after fertilization of the egg. 

ACOG states the "scientific facts on when a pregnancy begins" as "[g]overnment agencies and American medical organization agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman's uterus."

Harrison noted several flaws in this definition, explaining that there is no such thing as a "fertilized egg." "Technically, it is a single-celled zygote," she explained. After that, it becomes an embryo.

Contraceptives, including the morning after pill such as Plan B, work by either delaying the release of an egg and/or interfere with progesterone production. Without progesterone, the embryo does not implant and dies. In the case of Ella, a second-generation RU-486 mifepristone drug, it is directly fatal to the embryo. 

"Ella is definitely an abortifacient," Dr. Harrison said.

Iowa used to be very favorable towards abortion and other "pro-choice" measures. In 2010, Iowa had 29 Planned Parenthood locations — most of them providing medical abortion drugs via webcam. The notorious late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart had planned to move to Iowa in 2015.

The 2016 presidential election shifted the make-up of the state's government from predominantly pro-abortion to pro-life. All but six of the state's counties voted for Donald Trump, the state house maintained its pro-life majority and six pro-abortion Senators lost their re-election campaigns, turning the state senate to a pro-life majority.

Between 2017–2018, Iowa lawmakers then worked to reverse the state's reputation from being one of the worst for unborn children to one of the most pro-life. 

Pro-Life Iowa legislators passed a 20-week abortion ban, mandated a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion, defunded abortion providers by removing family planning monies for abortion providers, banned the trafficking of unborn baby parts, passed a fetal heartbeat bill banning abortions after six weeks. 

Iowa legislators also blocked an attempt to legalize euthanasia and passed a first-of-its-kind Safe Haven Expansion Act that drops abandonment charges for parents who choose to give up their newborn. 

Contraception is an unethical medical practice.

Lawmakers also rejected the Iowa Supreme Court decision allowing parents to sue a doctor for wrongful birth. 

By the end of 2018, only eight locations Planned Parenthood locations are left in operation in the state. 

MercyOne provided a statement to Rewire.News, saying:

As a Catholic health care organization, MercyOne is called to observe the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs). We work with our providers and colleagues to ensure the medical services we provide are in accordance with these guidelines. We remain committed to caring for the patients and communities we serve in the spirit of our Catholic values and faith-based mission.

There are doctors that are pleased with the hospitals' embrace of Catholic teaching on contraception. Dr. Bob Pranger said, "Contraception is an unethical medical practice from the eyes of the Catholic Church, mainly because most of the contraceptive modalities have the capacity to be abortifacient in nature and disrespectful to life."

Dr. Thad Anderson, an OB-GYN in Dubuque, said MercyOne providers can still perform tubal ligations during a c-section if the patient has at least one prior c-section. 

The USCCB's revised guidelines also require that the local bishop be "immediately" notified if a Catholic health care facility is "wrongly cooperating with immoral procedures." 

Church Militant reached out to MercyOne and the archdiocese of Dubuque but has not heard back by press time. 

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