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CU Urges City of Austin to Relieve Seton of All Responsibility for Reproductive Health Services

October 25, 2001

Consumers Union urges City of Austin to relieve Seton of all responsibility for reproductive health services

AUSTIN, TX – With renegotiation of the Brackenridge Hospital lease indefinitely stalled, Consumers Union today joined other healthcare advocates and women’s organizations in proposing that the City of Austin take over all birthing and obstetric services at the hospital.
CU further recommended that Seton Medical Center, and not city taxpayers, should pay for hospital renovations required by a recent change in Catholic directives on reproductive services. Disagreement over the provision of these services caused the postponement of the city’s decision on renegotiating the lease with Seton, originally slated for today.
In a report released by the Southwest Regional Office, CU responded to the city’s original proposal for amendments to the Brackenridge lease, which would have Seton and city staff splitting obstetric care by creating a second, city-administered obstetrics unit on Brackenridge’s 5th floor.
“Seton and the Catholic hierarchy have made it very clear that they simply cannot provide a full range of reproductive services to women without moral conflicts,” said Lisa McGiffert, a senior policy advocate at CU. “[Seton’s] ethical directives appear to prohibit even the indirect support of these services through the kinds of shared work for admissions and nursing staff required to appropriately sort women under the city proposal. We believe the best approach is to simply take all these services completely out of their hands.”
The Ethical Directives under which Seton operates mandate that caregivers distance themselves from acts deemed “intrinsically immoral” under Catholic religious law. Such acts include the provision of contraceptives, sterilization, and possibly even provision of advice about contraception or sterilization.
The Directives prohibit either direct or indirect involvement in “intrinsically immoral” acts-casting doubt on whether Seton ER staff could direct women seeking reproductive services like emergency contraception or tubal ligation to the correct floor for services, as the city has proposed.
Even in the case of rape, Seton’s emergency room staff are not permitted to dispense emergency contraceptives unless tests determine that conception could not possibly have occurred. In other words, only women who could not possibly be pregnant can receive contraceptives under the Directives, regardless of the circumstances.
Austin mayor Kirk Watson cited this particular Directive as the source of the negotiations’ derailment. He also cited the recent Brackenridge Oversight Committee recommendations for the city to take over all obstetric care and reproductive services at Brakenridge and to strengthen the lease agreement if the city council decides to proceed with the 5th floor proposal.
Consumers Union has a long-standing commitment to ensuring the provision of public health services in general. The Brackenridge debate is particularly relevant to CU’s ongoing hospital conversion project, which tracks ownership changes for nonprofit, for-profit and public hospitals and the effect these changes have on citizens’ access to healthcare.
To obtain a copy of the report, call 477-4431.
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Consumers Union Southwest Office
(512) 477-4431
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.