Abortion Services Saved in Little Rock
Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 12:35PM
MW Editor

Great news out of Arkansas this summer! Officials have called a halt to a potential Catholic/public hospital partnership that was threatening reproductive health care for low-income women in Central Arkansas.

The publicly-owned University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Catholic St. Vincent Health System had announced their intention to explore an affiliation in an effort to better coordinate care, reduce costs and expand access to health care services. From the beginning, promises were made that the affiliation would preserve UAMS’ public identity with “’no changes in the scope of clinical practice, ethics, decision-making on part of physicians or other health professionals’ at UAMS.”  UAMS is the primary provider for low-income women in Central Arkansas, providing contraception and family planning services at its clinics, sterilization procedures and medically-indicated terminations at its main campus. The hospital is also the designated referral site for emergency support for the sole abortion provider in the state. The St. Vincent System is part of the giant multi-state Catholic Health Initiatives system, one of the largest non-profit health systems in the nation.

A consulting firm was hired to draw up a variety of proposals that attempted to join the two organizations at key intervals without triggering the need to ban reproductive health services. Yet a local resident, Joann Coleman, raised an additional concern that slowed down the deal considerably. The powers vested in the Board of Trustees are constitutionally protected and cannot be transferred away from the Board unless the institution is abolished or consolidated with another State institution. Any affiliation with St. Vincent would only be possible if the Board explicitly retained its vested powers.  At Ms. Coleman’s request, MergerWatch, Catholics for Choice and National Women’s Law Center sent a letter to UAMS’ Board of Trustees raising this constitutional concern and examples of other public/religious hospital deals that collapsed when faced with a legal challenge. Public pressure on UAMS to remain completely independent of St. Vincent’s continued to build until an announcement was made last week that no affiliation would be formed after all.

This is great news for the women of Arkansas who in March endured the passage of the most restrictive abortion law in the country. The law, which bans abortion at the 12th week of pregnancy, has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. 

Article originally appeared on MergerWatch.org (http://www.mergerwatch.org/).
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