Catholic Hospital System to Provide Contraceptives in Walgreens Partnership
A Catholic hospital system has confirmed that it will provide contraceptives as part of its partnership with Walgreens, in violation of the American Catholic bishops’ directives. SSM Health describes itself as “a Catholic, not-for-profit health system,” and in its mission statement says that through its work, “we reveal the healing presence of God.”
Nevertheless, on August 25, SSM Health announced it would provide clinics in 26 Walgreens locations in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, and maintain their provision of contraceptives. A spokesperson for SSM Health told The Stream that “SSM Health continues to offer the same services that were previously available at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics” — services that have included selling and giving prescriptions for contraceptives. Walgreens’ national website notes that the chain sells condoms and a wide variety of birth control products.
A SSM Health press release likewise claimed thir new clinics would provide all previously offered services, though it did not mention providing contraceptives. The day after the partnership became official, a SSM Health spokesperson told The Associated Press (AP) the Walgreens clinics
will provide 30-day refills for contraceptive pills previously prescribed by a physician — the same policy carried by the clinics previously run in-house by Walgreens. A website for the clinics shows a long list of services, everything from vaccinations and wellness checkups to treatment for illness and injury, but it makes no reference to birth control.
The Catholic Bishops’ directive states that “Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices but should provide, for married couples and the medical staff who counsel them, instruction both about the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood and in methods of natural family planning.”
The ACLU Wants Answers
Before the partnership was formally announced, the ACLU had written Walgreens’ Chief Medical Officer. The liberal group — which has long pressured Catholic health institutions to provide contraceptives, abortifacients and abortions against the bishops’ health directives — asked how SSM-run clinics would provide care and treatment for women seeking birth control and how clinic employees would treat LGBT patients and customers. A spokesperson for the ACLU declined The Stream’s request for comment.
Through its spokesperson’s statement to The Stream, SSM Health addressed the ACLU’s concerns about treatment of LGBT customers. “SSM Health is proud to treat every patient with dignity and respect. This commitment to inclusivity, justice and equality defines who we are as a Mission-and values-driven organization. In fact, we have been recognized as a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.”
SSM received the award in 2014. According to a press release the company issued at the time,
Facilities awarded this title meet key criteria, including patient and employee non-discrimination policies that specifically mention sexual orientation and gender identity, a guarantee of equal visitation for same-sex partners and parents, and LGBT health education for key staff members.
Despite the provision of morally problematic products, the ACLU and the groups that signed its letter said they still want to meet with Walgreens and SSM. A Walgreens spokesperson told AP that the ACLU’s letter included attempted to address some “services that are not applicable to a retail health care clinic setting, regardless of the provider.”