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Hoag Hospital criticized after dropping elective abortions

The Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian compex in Newport Beach, shown from the Via Lido bridge.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Hoag Hospital’s decision to stop performing elective abortions in the wake of its affiliation with a Catholic healthcare group has sparked an outcry among women’s rights advocates, who say the move diminishes access to high-quality reproductive care.

These advocates plan to protest outside the Newport Beach hospital at a rally next week, and eight Hoag-affiliated doctors recently penned a public letter registering their disapproval.

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“The No. 1 thing a hospital has to have is credibility, and I think they’re taking a risk ...” said Suzanne Savary, president of the Newport Beach Democratic Women’s Club. “I don’t think women’s groups are going to let it go away. I think Hoag’s reputation is on the line, and that’s not a good thing for the [hospital] board to allow.”

Hospital officials have said the move was a business decision to refer out an infrequently used service and was not motivated by the religious views of its new healthcare partner, St. Joseph Health. They compared the decision to one five years ago in which Hoag began referring in-patient pediatrics to Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).

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While elective abortions are no longer offered, Hoag still provides emergency contraception following rape or sexual assault, emergency services for women who experience complications from pregnancy termination at other facilities, or management of ectopic or other pregnancy problems, according to a letter sent to affiliated doctors last month.

The two providers have retained separate identities and leadership, though together they form the Covenant Health Network, headed by former Hoag Hospital Presbyterian’s president, Dr. Richard Afable.

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Neither Afable, nor anyone representing St. Joseph Health, would comment on whether Hoag had been asked to stop performing abortions or other services to better align with St. Joseph’s religious values.

Robert T. Braithwaite, Hoag’s president and chief executive, has said that the Hoag board was not pressured by St. Joseph.

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Last week, he said the decision came after “pretty careful review of all the facts and considerations that were related to this service,” which led the board to ultimately seek out “a different venue of care for that service.”

“Not everybody agreed, but the board felt comfortable this was the right thing for Hoag and we moved forward,” Braithwaite said.

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In addition, Braithwaite and Gary McKitterick, chairman of the Hoag Board of Directors, said in a May 24 letter to the Daily Pilot that women’s health is a paramount concern at Hoag.

“Women’s health is an extremely important issue to the Hoag Board of Directors and administration,” they wrote. “We took a proactive approach to the preservation and continuation of health services for women.”

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