Growing up Catholic, I attended a K-12 parochial school, where the only thing I was taught about sex came my sophomore year, when we spit in Dixie cups and were told that’s how gross sex was. Abstinence was the only acceptable form of contraception — which did not work well for the 10 pregnant teens I graduated with. And abortion, as we were shown via video, was a misconstrued grotesque version of itself where a full-size fetus was vacuumed from its mother, unlike the reality in which almost 90% of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks.

And yet now, here in Washington, this wildly anti-reproductive health care religious institution is about to control more than half of our hospitals.

Last month, Virginia Mason announced it was planning to merge with CHI Franciscan. This puts people in Seattle and Yakima in a dangerous position to lose access to comprehensive reproductive health care, as well as end-of-life care.

When religion becomes tied up in health care, those who already face the worst outcomes in their health-care services will suffer even greater — particularly women of color, LGBTQ+ people, those who are terminally ill, low income or live in rural communities.

CHI Franciscan follows the so-called “Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) for Catholic Health Care Services.” These directives are written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, not medical professionals, and ban services the Catholic church deems “intrinsically immoral.” The ERD clearly lays out what it means for CHI Franciscan to take over the 12 hospitals that fall within the merger. No more physician-assisted, end-of-life care. No more abortion care. No hormone therapy. And the list goes on — no contraception, no sterilization, no in vitro fertilization. These services should never be determined by religious doctrine but should be left between a patient and their doctor to decide.

And what happens when a patient has a miscarriage and needs lifesaving care? Or if they face pregnancy complications and could lose their life if they do not receive an abortion, and end up like Savita Halappanavar, the 31-year-old pregnant women in Ireland who bled to death because Catholic health-care workers refused her abortion? The religious directives say that “some miscarriage management services” are banned as well. How could any pregnant person trust a hospital with such a weak promise to care for them in their time of utmost need?


What patients do not need right now, in the middle of a pandemic, is more restrictions on health care. Especially pregnant women who are more likely to face complications if they contract COVID-19.

We live in a state that has long supported the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion. We fought and won the right to safe and legal abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade made it the law of the land.

Virginia Mason should refuse to limit reproductive health-care services and end-of-life care services to serve the needs of all Washingtonians. Denial of care causes unnecessary delays, puts patients at risk, and increases costs and the chances for worse outcomes by delaying care.