Richard Doerflinger

In January, five Catholic medical and professional associations came together to establish the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance.

Its board members represent the Catholic Medical Association, National Catholic Bioethics Center, Catholic Benefits Association, Catholic Bar Association and Christ Medicus Foundation. Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, will serve as its first episcopal adviser.

The first health care system to join the alliance is a 12-hospital system, Franciscan Health, also known as Franciscan Alliance. Order of St. Francis Sister Jane Marie Klein, who chairs its board, says the new organization “will defend the right of faith-based providers to deliver care in concert with their religious beliefs.”

Never was the need for such defense more urgent.


One development demonstrating that need is a proposal by the Biden administration to issue new regulations interpreting the Affordable Care Act’s ban on sex discrimination.

This echoes an effort by the Obama administration years ago to use that clause to require health care providers and health benefits plans to help provide “gender transition” services and abortions. This creative redefinition of “sex” was contested by some federal courts, then rescinded by the Trump administration.

But President Joe Biden has voiced strong support for a proposed “Equality Act,” which includes similar requirements and would explicitly nullify any appeal to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to claim a religious exemption.

Threats to Catholic health care also arise from some states. In California, a Catholic hospital is being threatened with a civil rights violation for declining to remove a woman’s healthy uterus to help her identify as a man.

In that state, New York and my home state of Washington, health plans have been told they must cover elective abortions if they cover childbirth.

These latter actions should be illegal under a long-standing federal conscience clause known as the Hyde/Weldon amendment, but this administration, like the Obama administration before it, does not seem interested in enforcing such laws.

These mandates pose problems for many health care providers besides Catholics. For example, most hospitals and most doctors in the U.S. do not perform elective abortions. But Catholic health care is especially odious to groups dedicated to certain secular ideologies.

Through its commitment to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services, which affirm the dignity of each and every human being from conception to natural death, it stands in the way of the assumption that health care encompasses everything an individual may desire that a health professional is technically able to do.

So entire organizations like MergerWatch exist to starve Catholic hospitals out of full participation in our health care system.

Attacks on Catholic health care attack patients, Catholic and other, who seek health care affirming the spiritual as well as physical well-being of everyone in need.

But especially during a pandemic, when our health care institutions are struggling to cope with a dramatic rise in life-threatening illness, it poses a grave danger to every American.

Catholic facilities make up the largest nonprofit health care network in the country, and have been found to provide better and more cost-effective care than other institutions. They are estimated to care for 1 in 6 hospital patients.

Efforts to make them violate their mission or close their doors endanger us all, regardless of age, race, sex or political affiliation. Even at a contentious and polarized political time, you would think this is something everyone can agree on.


Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.