Fla. Hospital Drops Catholic Controls to Stop AU Lawsuit

Article excerpt

A non-profit hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., that operates on city-owned property has agreed to end its partnership with Roman Catholic medical centers in the area and drop restrictive church doctrines covering issues like abortion and birth control.

Bayfront Medical Center became the target of a lawsuit by Americans United and allied groups last year when, in an attempt to solve financial woes, it entered into an alliance with several Catholic hospitals called the BayCare Health System. BayCare officials demanded that Bayfront adopt a series of Catholic health care directives that ban all abortion, forbid distribution or discussion of contraceptives and institute Catholic rules concerning end of life issues. (See "Emergency!," October 2000 Church & State.)

Formerly a city-owned institution, Bayfront is now run by a private, nonprofit group but pays an annual $10 lease to the city. In return, the hospital is expected to operate in the public interest and offer care regardless of "sex, race, color or creed."

To join the Catholic alliance, Bayfront had to agree to ban elective abortions. Hospital officials were not upfront about the condition, and several city officials were furious when the details of the deal leaked out through reports in the local media. City officials accused Bayfront of violating the conditions of its lease and filed a lawsuit. Americans United, the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida filed a separate suit, charging a violation of church-state separation.

The parting did not occur smoothly. Bayfront was forcibly voted out of the BayCare alliance by the other hospitals in the group, which cited Bayfront's inability to come to an agreement with the city as the reason for the split. …