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California Attorney General investigates Hoag Hospital’s abortion ban

Hoag hospital's decision to stop offering elective abortion services has spurred supporters and protesters.
Hoag hospital's decision to stop offering elective abortion services has spurred supporters and protesters.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

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The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris is looking into a controversial agreement between Newport Beach's Hoag Hospital and Catholic hospital, St. Joseph Health.

Under a deal reached earlier this year, the two hospitals are starting a formal affiliation, which means a lot of incoming dollars from St. Joseph will be going to Hoag.

Shortly after forging the new relationship, Hoag announced it would discontinue abortion procedures at the hospital. One reason it cited was a relatively low number of abortions performed there, and how that might lead to a decline in the service provided.

However, several obstetricians/gynecologists with Hoag wrote a letter of protest at the move. They say Hoag insisted there would not be a ban on abortions: "We were, therefore, shocked and dismayed to learn that the hospital was banning abortions, effective May 1," they said. 

According to Bill Dunlap, a member of the Republican Central Committee of Orange County, there are over 3,500 abortions being performed each day, and a total of 1.2 million a year. He explained that in many cases, abortion has increasingly been used as a method of contraception. 

“It’s really not about the mother and the child’s health – it’s about a choice to be made for contraception," said Dunlap. "[Abortion] is used as contraception, and I don’t think anybody thinks that should be what it should be."

Jon Dunn, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood for Orange County and San Bernardino County, said he has concerns about whether family planning and other health services would be affected or stopped at Hoag beyond the 10-year time frame. Dunn said that he doesn’t believe that any religious institution should “impose its will on others.” 

“I think a Catholic hospital is a private institution – they have the right to make their own decisions about their institution," said Dunn. "What’s troubling is this trend we’re seeing all around the country where Catholic hospital systems are taking over either secular or non-Catholic hospitals and imposing their directives on those hospitals."

Dunn cited that around 1 out of 6 hospitals in the country are run by Catholic institutions, and that many communities which originally provided reproductive health services are now no longer available. 

“For me, it’s a longer term concern: What will happen after 10 years?" said Dunn. "It seems unlikely that once the attorney general is no longer enforcing an agreement, that Hoag is going to be able to continue to provide a full range of health services.” 

In recent days the outspoken doctors have been targeted by anti-abortion protesters, some of whom showed up at a doctor's residence. Hoag Hospital maintains that there are other abortion providers in the area, so women will not be under-served.

If so, why were the doctors insistent that Hoag continue to perform abortions? What level of access does the law call for regarding abortion rights? What other health services are opposed by Catholic institutions, and will they be altered at Hoag, too? With a national trend seeing more and more Catholic health-care providers merging with other hospitals, which services are being affected?

Jon Dunn, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood for Orange County and San Bernardino County

Bill Dunlap, member of the Republican Central Committee of Orange County

With contributions by Monica Luhar.