January 5, 2012 — Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has rejected a proposed hospital merger, in part because of concern that it would restrict access to certain reproductive health services, the Denver Business Journal reports (Karman, Denver Business Journal, 12/30/11). The merger would have created the largest hospital system in the state (Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 12/31/11).
Under the merger, University of Louisville Hospital would have joined Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's Health Care and St. Joseph Health System, whose parent company is Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives. CHI would have owned 70% of the combined operations. Officials at the hospitals had said that a full range of reproductive procedures would continue, but they did not specify how they would comply with Catholic directives, which forbid sterilization, non-natural birth control and abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/9/11).
The proposed merger required the governor's approval. In a news release, Beshear expressed concern about the potential influence of a religious entity on reproductive issues. "After exhaustive discussions and research, I have determined that this proposed transaction is not in the best interest of the commonwealth and therefore should not move forward," he said, adding, "In my opinion the risks to the public outweigh the potential benefits" (Denver Business Journal, 12/30/11).
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D) also objected to the merger, citing an office report that found there would be "a material change in the level of service at the historically public" University Hospital. This would create legal concerns about potential "excessive entanglement between state and religion," the report said (Wall Street Journal, 12/31/11).
David McArthur, community and media relations manager for University Hospital, said that the failed merger partners are "disappointed on behalf of patients across the commonwealth who would be the greatest beneficiaries of the proposed merger, and who have the most to lose if the merger does not move forward." He also pledged to "address the inaccuracies and noted concerns in the (attorney general's) report" (Denver Business Journal, 12/30/11).
The rejection was praised by several community and reproductive health advocates. Attorney Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said the decision ensures that health care decisions at University Hospital "will continue to be based on professional medical judgment of its physicians, rather than religion-based guidelines developed by the Catholic Church."
Peter Hasselbacher -- a former professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and the head of the state Health Policy Institute -- added that without the merger low-income women in Kentucky will be "better off because they don't have to wonder where they are going to go for procedures" (Kenning, Louisville Courier-Journal, 12/31/11).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership