Father William Byron

In mid-July, the proposed merger of two large hospital systems in suburban Philadelphia — Abington Memorial Hospital and Holy Redeemer Health System — fell apart. Abortion was the reason for the breakup.

Holy Redeemer is a widely respected Catholic health care organization. It describes itself as “a Catholic health system, rooted in the tradition of the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer” and specifies that “we care, comfort and heal following the example of Jesus, proclaiming the hope God offers in the midst of human struggle.” The system lists its “key values” as:

• “Respect — We revere all life as sacred and value each person as one created by God.

• “Compassion — We practice empathy toward each other, creating a healing presence in times of pain and struggle.

• “Hospitality — We welcome the stranger, guests and each other in a friendly and generous manner.

• “Holistic Care — We are attentive and responsive to the needs of the whole person: physical, spiritual, emotional and social.

• “Collaboration — We work jointly and cooperatively, networking within Holy Redeemer and with other systems and persons.

• “Stewardship — We care for all of creation, human and material, that has been entrusted to us by God.

• “Justice — We treat others at all times with fairness and honesty.”

Regrettably, this was not good enough for many physicians and health care providers in Abington Township. They, with many others in the community, opposed the merger because it would mean an end to abortions (about 50 to 60 a year) at Abington Memorial. Holy Redeemer had insisted on the elimination of abortions at Abington as a deal breaker in the merger proposal.

The hospitals issued a joint statement announcing the end of their merger talks. Abortion was not mentioned. The statement said in part, “While we are disappointed, we believe this decision is in the best interest of both organizations. Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System will continue to seek opportunities to enhance the health of the communities we serve.”

Community activists and many who wanted Abington Memorial to continue performing abortions fueled opposition to the merger by using social media and other weapons of war in cyberspace. Holy Redeemer was pilloried for standing strong on its basic convictions.

An editorial hailing the breakup appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer under the headline: “Merger’s Failure is Good Medicine.” Accompanying that editorial was a cartoon depicting two physicians at Abington Hospital — “Dr. of Obstetrics” and “Dr. of Gynecology” — seated at their desks. Next to them sits a mitred bishop at a desk labeled “Dr. of Theology.” They are looking at the bishop and saying, “It just isn’t a good fit.”

Sad for medicine. Bad for the unborn. Hats off to Holy Redeemer.

The Catholic conviction that no one has the right to choose to terminate incipient human life in the womb remains standing, now that this brief battle is over. At bottom, this is not a question of faith. It is a reasoned and reasonable position.

Holy Redeemer is neither condemning nor complaining. It is simply bearing quiet witness to the fact that unborn human life is sacred and worthy of protection at any cost.


Jesuit Father William J. Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: wbyron@sju.edu.