My wife, Victoria Velinski, is involved with a marvelous rape crisis advocacy group called Rape Victim Advocates. Two weekends a month she is on call for a number of Chicago-area hospitals in case a survivor is admitted after a sexual assault. When she's called, I offer my assistance by giving her a ride and remaining in the waiting room while she helps people get through what is often the worst night of their lives.
Victoria was paged recently to a familiar hospital near Chicago's West Side. After we arrived, she went into triage and I settled into the waiting room to read. Droning in the background was a TV program about lowering blood pressure and a doctor was going over treatments: diet, exercise, stress reduction, etc. I paid little attention until he mentioned the most important method of treatment, "Trust in God."
My head snapped up so fast I nearly sprained my neck. I watched in amazement as anecdotes played on the screen proclaiming how prayer brought the hypertensive back from death's door. While prayer, meditation and pet ownership have all been shown to lower blood pressure, I was amazed that the doctor's primary prescription was prayer. I wondered what my reaction would be if my physician treated me by saying, "Pet your dog and call me in the morning."
I looked to see if anyone was paying attention but was mostly met with uninterested wandering stares; anxious people with little-to-no health insurance waiting for their numbers to be called. That's when my wife came out of the treatment area with a look that would've melted stone.
"We might have to give her a ride," she said.
"Sure, how come?" I asked.
"They're now a Catholic hospital."
Things suddenly became clearer. It seemed that, since we were last there in early 2004, a chain of Catholic hospitals had taken over this previously secular institution. The choice in programming started to make sense, but was no less bizarre. As my wife went back to treatment, Pat Robertson welcomed me to The 700 Club, mainstay of Christian evangelistic television.
Changes in Access
A lot happens when a Catholic conglomerate takes over a hospital. Some of the widespread changes center on abortion services and contraception access and education. For example, if abortion was previously performed at the clinic, it is no longer offered. Affiliated clinics that perform abortion are usually forced to become independent, and if any affiliated clinic offers contraception or contraception education, it may be required to stop or become independent.
But one of the most important changes is that in cases of sexual assault, emergency contraception, known as Plan B, is typically not given by the hospital.
In such a case, a doctor may give a prescription for EC, but the survivor must make the trip to the pharmacy.
The trip to the pharmacy is not only difficult after a traumatic sexual assault, there's also cause to believe that once there, a rape victim wouldn't be able to get her prescription filled. Across the country, pharmacists are refusing to dispense birth control for religious reasons. It seems disturbingly plausible that a Catholic hospital, refusing to offer emergency contraception for religious reasons, could make referrals to a pharmacy or pharmacist that also refuses to give contraception for religious reasons.
While this scenario played out in my head, The 700 Club welcomed John Tesh, former Entertainment Tonight host turned Christian crooner. I'll refrain from making a judgment on the humaneness of subjecting captive ER patients to John Tesh in general. Of interest was the message in the music he played, which was: Jesus was in control, we were to trust in that control and He was behind every event--working things out for our best interests.
I looked around the room and paired that with the friends and family of the raped, the beaten, the shot and the sick. I was left questioning the timeliness and wisdom of such a message.
This wasn't the only time that night I thought of those around me.
After John Tesh, Pat Robertson began a question-and-answer session with his audience. The first person rose and said, "Pat, the last election was decided by voters who listed 'moral values' as their primary concern. What do you think this means for the country and should we try to mend fences with the liberals?"
In response, Mr. Robertson proceeded on a divisive rant about the uselessness of speaking to the "Michael Moorons," a reference to the filmmaker who made Fahrenheit 9/11, and said they had "nothing in common with the morality of the Republican Party."
I can't say I was surprised by this reaction, but it was the follow-up to this statement that saddened me. Expounding on "Republican Morality," Mr. Robertson proceeded to talk about the immorality and sinfulness of abortion.
Survivor's Family Waiting
Returning to the room at hand and my reason for being there, it's been my experience that the family of the survivor is often present in the waiting room. So far, they could've been confronted with the message that their raped friend, sister or daughter would not be given medication to prevent pregnancy, God was behind the assault, and if the outcome was pregnancy, to terminate would be immoral and sinful.
Thankfully, as much as the Catholic hospital system may try to take over, doctors are stubborn. While I was looking up the nearest pharmacy, the on-call doctor, calling the new rules "ridiculous," signed out the restricted medication to the annoyance of the charge nurse. The survivor got her EC and we didn't have to put her through that extra trip to the pharmacy. I wonder, however, whether there would be ramifications for this doctor? And whether she would be hired at the hospital in the first place if the administration knew her feelings on EC?
I fear the next call my wife receives could entail worse. I dread the prospect.