The University of California (UC) board of regents have given Catholic hospitals it's affiliated with an ultimatum: deny their religious convictions or end their contracts with the university. The board has given up to two years for Catholic schools in the state that it is affiliated with to deny their beliefs or risk losing contracts with UC.
According to CBN News, the move came about after Democrat Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco proposed legislation that would require the University of California to terminate contracts with religious hospitals and health facilities unless they changed their policies or refrained from applying them to doctors and students who work there.
The UC swayed in Sen. Weiner's direction, but did not require the termination of the contracts of up to 77 hospitals and other health facilities in the state, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Up to 35,000 patients are provided with healthcare from institutions such as Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West. Many of its patients are low-income citizens of California who have limited access to healthcare.
"We should have greater ability to serve more patients, but in a way that is in compliance with the policy, we adopt today. We're against discrimination," UC Regents Chair John Pérez, who wrote the resolution, argued. The vote was won 22 to 0, earning overwhelming support across the board.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the new UC policy requires physicians who practice at a religious healthcare facility to "provide any treatment at that location to a patient who can't be safely transferred to another facility - even if the treatment would violate religious restrictions." UC's affiliated hospitals are given up to December 31, 2023 to comply with the policy or risk its contract being cancelled.
UC's decision ends two years of debate over its relationship with religious healthcare facilities that impose "policy based" restrictions on healthcare within the facilities. This practice applies to Catholic hospitals that abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) for Catholic Health Care Services as mandated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Under the ERD, procedures such as abortions, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization are "intrinsically evil," which means it violates the Catholic facilities' and its physicians' religious beliefs. Sex-change procedures such as hysterectomies are also banned under the ERD.
The UC believes that these restrictions infringe on their "commitment to provide treatment based on the best scientific information available," a letter from the UC community to the University President Michael V. Drake read. The letter argued that such policies that uphold religious convictions in turn "goes against the university's obligation...not to discriminate against any individuals."
Drake agreed, saying during an address on Wednesday that the "past affiliation contracts did not reflect UC values. That was wrong and it was unacceptable."
However, the Alliance of Catholic Healthcare (ACH) argued in a statement that ending these contracts would "disenfranchise health care access for millions of health inequity-impacted Californians, doing an enormous disservice to our state's goal of expanding health care access for the underserved."
The ACH claims that these Catholic institutions operate up to 51 acute care hospitals in the state, which represent about "15% of all hospitals and over 16% of the hospital beds in the state."
Furthermore, the ACH said that the partnerships between UC and Catcholic hospitals and other religious healthcare facilities arose from their "shared values" with the university and its own faith-based providers to "ensure care" especially to "underserved communities" which are often denied such healthcare services.