Officials at St. Mary’s Hospital and Waterbury Hospital began negotiations in 2011 to merge and join a Texas-owned company. But the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women—with MergerWatch, a hospital watchdog group—successfully argued against the merger by making the case that since the new hospital would honor Catholic religious directives, a significant portion of patients would be left vulnerable—because God help you if you are a woman and need emergency reproductive services at a Roman Catholic hospital. Medical professionals at Catholic-owned or -sponsored hospitals operate under directives—known officially as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. These directives come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and take 43 pages (plus footnotes) to describe what constitutes appropriate Catholic health care.
Several times every month, protesters come to the New Haven Planned Parenthood of Southern New England office to hold signs and pray the rosary. Planned Parenthood serves about 64,000 Connecticut patients a year, though according to a recent annual report, abortions are only about six percent of its services. Most of the services revolve around providing contraceptive services and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration eased restrictions on the so-called abortion pill, also known as RU-486. The new rules allow women to use the drug later in their pregnancies with less visits to the doctor.
For the first time, all Connecticut health insurance companies will be required to cover infertility treatment for people age 40 and older. The state’s Insurance Department said that failure to provide the coverage constitutes age discrimination in violation of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new requirement takes effect Jan. 1. “Limits to coverage that are discriminatory run counter to the clear intent of the Affordable Care Act and we must ensure that our state laws and guidelines are compliant,” said state Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade.
The Affordable Care Act is providing women with an impressive array of reproductive health care options – except where it doesn’t. Whether a woman is benefitting from the ACA depends very much on her address, and the rather complicated workings of state exchanges. But with some caveats, for Connecticut women, the law is working. We should take a moment to think about that. Connecticut women are in the unusual position of having an important political promise met.