Religious freedom in America means that we all have the right to have our own religious beliefs, including the right to have no religious beliefs at all. But this freedom does not give us the right to use religion to discriminate and impose those beliefs on those who do not believe the same.
Unfortunately, individuals, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmacies and other healthcare organizations continue to use religion as an excuse to deny the public basic information and care. communities and families related to reproductive health, including contraception and abortion, as well as end-of-life care. and LGBTQ+ care. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, a disturbing pattern is emerging of the coordinated spread of misinformation about health care denial by the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ movements, especially in places like New Mexico, where we have strong protections.
Even more disturbing is the trend of out-of-state, religiously affiliated health care systems, with highly restrictive policies contrary to best medical practices, taking over facilities. Locally owned and operated health care. This is activity that the ACLU has been tracking for decades. It can limit access to health care, affect the quality of care, and increase costs for patients and their families.
“Not only are patients directly affected by these restrictions, but also the well-trained and available medical staff at these facilities are at risk of losing their jobs…”
Today, at least one in seven hospital beds across the country is in hospitals that impose religious restrictions on personal care whether you are a member of that religion or not. At home, after closed-door negotiations with little transparency, Catholic-affiliated CHRISTUS Health acquired Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center (GCRMC) in Alamogordo.
GCRMC is the largest hospital in the region and the only Level III trauma center serving Otero County and surrounding area residents, Holloman Air Force Base service members and their families, Mescalero Reservation Apache, as well as individuals detained in regional jails and prisons. GCRMC also manages multiple on- and off-site clinics. We and our partners support local community leaders who are deeply concerned that this acquisition will limit access to basic health care for residents What is Otero County like?
Catholic-affiliated hospitals like CHRISTUS follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The directive prohibits a wide range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, abortion (even if the patient’s health or life is endangered by the pregnancy) and routinely deny care to LGBTQ+ individuals. They also limit access to hospice services, consultations and referrals, sometimes even refusing to follow patients’ advanced health care directives.
The U.S. bishops have also begun a process that will apparently result in a ban on providing any form of gender-affirming care in Catholic hospitals, formalizing an already routine practice of Denial of access to this necessary care.
Not only are patients directly affected by these restrictions, but also the well-trained and prepared health care workers at these facilities are at risk of losing their jobs simply for using drugs based on evidence and expert judgment to provide patients with the best possible care. The Directive can also limit the rights and benefits of employees while they are at work and even during breaks.
Our communities and families deserve access to comprehensive and high-quality health care, no matter who or where they are.
Patients may not be aware of the religious affiliation of the local clinic or hospital, especially in an emergency, or may not know that the care they need may be denied in the name of religion. And frankly, they may not have any other options in a rural state like ours. If care is denied, it may be impossible to find another health care provider, especially in rural areas. And it can be difficult to find a provider that takes their insurance.
Our communities and families deserve access to comprehensive and high-quality health care, no matter who or where they are. The ACLU of New Mexico is working to ensure that no patient is denied access to health care and information because of the religious doctrine of the organizations that operate hospitals, clinics or other medical facilities , especially organizations that receive money from taxpayers. Another person’s religious ideology should not dictate a patient’s ability to obtain information about their medical condition, treatment options, or the care they need. All New Mexicans deserve to live lives of safety and dignity, free from discrimination or abuse.
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