Ellis-St. Peter’s merger requires full disclosure

It does not take a repressive law to deprive women of their right to abortion. It can also happen when the availability of reproductive health care simply disappears from a community.

This could well be the consequence that the people of Schenectady and surrounding areas will face if Ellis Medicine merges with Catholic affiliate St. Peter’s Health Partners. This should make transparency in merger discussions not just a courtesy, but a must.

Ellis now offers a full range of reproductive health procedures, including abortion, but if the hospital merges with St. Peter’s, some procedures could be halted or severely reduced both there and at the Bellevue Women’s Center in Niskayuna. . St. Peter’s is owned by Michigan-based Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest Catholic health care systems.

As Rachel Silberstein of the Times Union explains, what is happening in Schenectady is a local example of a national problem as Catholic-run health services increasingly merge with secular ones. When this occurs, the merged entity generally falls under the ethical and religious guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which prohibit abortion, contraception, sterilization, and most fertility treatments. And in cases where an abortion or similar procedure might be allowed — removing a fetus in a life-threatening miscarriage, for example — health advocates say doctors might have to delay treatment until until the fetus’ heart stops, even at the risk of sepsis or death for the woman.

So far, Ellis and St. Peter’s have only begun to consolidate management services in an effort to streamline costs. But they are also engaged in a two-year study of a possible full merger. How reproductive health care might fit into such a plan, they don’t say. All the public has heard so far are nebulous assurances of his commitment to ‘compassionate care’.

The public needs much more than that. This region has already been let down once before by a failed promise of continued availability of breeding services in such a merger. A “non-Catholic” floor where religious restrictions did not apply was promised to the Burdett Birth Center when it merged with St. Peter’s affiliated Samaritan Hospital in Troy in 2011; which ended in 2020 when St. Peter’s decided it was not financially viable.

When a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion ending the constitutional right to abortion was leaked in May, New York leaders were quick to respond. The legislature has launched what is expected to be a two-year process to enshrine abortion rights, which are already protected by law, in the state constitution. The state is also paying more money to abortion providers to handle what is expected to be an influx of people from states that have restricted or banned abortion.

It’s time for state leaders to apply the same sense of urgency closer to home for New Yorkers whose reproductive care is more immediately threatened by this potential merger. Governor Kathy Hochul and the state Department of Health must make it clear that any proposed merger agreement must include assurances of comprehensive and ongoing reproductive care in the Schenectady area, and that they must be as strong as possible. Just as the quality of health care depends on people’s ability to access it, a right depends on a person’s ability to exercise it.

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