Proposed UT teaching hospital would not provide family planning


Pu Ying Huang

Certified medical assistants Irene Gutierrez, Alesia Bolden and family nurse practitioner Emily Lee loosen up after a day of appointments at the CommUnity Care health center Wednesday afternoon. UT’s new teaching hospital will not be offering family planning services but will direct patients to health clinics such as this one that do. 

Joshua Fechter

Abortion and family planning services including birth control pills and emergency contraceptives will not be available at a proposed UT teaching hospital because of the operator’s religious beliefs.

The UT System Board of Regents pledged $30 million to a proposed Travis County medical school in May after receiving a $250 million preliminary commitment toward the hospital from the Seton Family of Hospitals, a Catholic hospital network. Neither a location nor a timetable for the hospital has been decided.

“It isn’t a matter of preaching to anyone,” Seton spokesperson Steven Taylor said. “We try to live within the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Seton does not provide abortions, birth control pills, emergency contraceptives or sterilization. In addition to Seton’s pledge, Proposition 1, a Nov. 6 ballot initiative, would increase property taxes allocated to Central Health that would help fund the hospital and provide care to underserved citizens of Travis County.

Representatives from Seton and Central Health, a taxing authority that provides health care to Travis County citizens, said patients seeking family planning services will be directed to other health care facilities that do provide the services.

Central Health spokesperson Christie Garbe said, for example, female patients seeking a tubal ligation, a form of sterilization, after giving birth will be directed to St. David’s Medical Center, which performs the procedure and also contracts with Central Health.

Garbe said the Central Health board of managers passed a measure that allows contracted providers to bill Central Health for family planning services cut by the state.

Central Health also funds clinics that provide family planning services including CommUnityCare, Lone Star Circle of Care, People’s Community Clinic and Planned Parenthood, Garbe said.

UT students may access contraceptive services on campus. University Health Services provides access to condoms, birth control pills and emergency contraceptives.

Douglas Laycock, a former UT law professor who specializes in church and state relations, said about 20 percent of U.S. hospitals are operated by Catholic health organizations that receive public funds including Medicare, Medicaid and government contracts. He said religious organizations receiving public funds that do not provide family planning services have not presented a substantial legal problem.

“That has never been much of an issue, and the healthcare system could not function without [religious organizations],” Laycock said.

Central Health contracts Seton to manage operations at University Medical Center Brackenridge and contracts with St. David’s and local clinics to perform services Seton does not perform at Brackenridge.

Dr. Sue Cox, regional dean of the medical education program offered by Seton and UT Southwestern Medical Center, said students who complete residencies in Austin that include family planning components complete those components at community care clinics and St. David’s. Students complete other segments of their residency at Brackenridge and other Seton hospitals.

David Huffstutler, president and CEO of St. David’s HealthCare, was quoted last week in the Austin American-Statesman saying he sees no reason why Central Health’s role would change at the proposed hospital.

During the last legislative session, the Texas Legislature cut the state’s 2012-2013 budget for family planning services from $111 million to $37.9 million. As a result, 53 out of 240 clinics that provide family planning services and received public funds closed statewide, according to a story in The Texas Tribune last week.

Danielle Wells, spokesperson for family planning and contraception provider Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said 22,902 patients visited Planned Parenthood clinics in Austin seeking contraceptive methods last year.