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Updated 03/05/09, Caritas hospitals also refused post-rape birth control

The Boston Globe raises serious questions about access to family planning and abortion services with a religiously-affiliated health care plan, Caritas, that may soon provide coverage to low-income Massachusetts residents under the state’s health insurance mandate law.

At least one [state health] board member expressed concerns about the proposed Caritas-linked venture, called Commonwealth Family Health Plan, because Caritas, a six-hospital network affiliated with the Boston Archdiocese, does not perform abortions.

"How will our female members be provided these reproductive services?" said member Nancy Turnbull, an associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Those are not services Caritas provides."

In response, Caritas and Centene issued a joint statement late yesterday that said the new venture "will contract with providers, both in and out of the Caritas network, to ensure access to all services required by the authority, including confidential family planning services."

A Globe story in December also reported that two Caritas hospitals, when contacted by a research for an abortion-rights group, said they would refuse to supply a "morning after" pills to prevent pregnancy in a victim of rape. Such refusal, unlike declining to provide abortion services, is a clear violation of Massachusetts law.

Forcing women to go outside their regular medical network for information on abortion or birth control may place a substantial road block in the way of obtaining timely, necessary care.

The new health plan also currently has the lowest bid in to the state, and patients will be automatically enrolled in the plan if its bid stays low, exposing another problem with mandatory private insurance: patients may be dumped into plans that don’t provide the care they need. Or in the case of the morning after pill, even care that is required by state law.