Another View: Hospital mergers put women’s health at risk

California has a long history of supporting women’s reproductive health and rights. The rest of the nation? Not so much.

Since 2011, states have passed more restrictions on women’s health than were enacted in the previous decade. As more states limit access to reproductive health care, California bucked this trend. We are the only state in the nation to pass proactive legislation improving access to reproductive care.

California can again provide national leadership if Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB 1094, which protects community access to reproductive health care when hospitals merge or consolidate. Authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, SB 1094 offers the state attorney general an additional and narrow enforcement mechanism to ensure transparency by all parties involved in the merger process.

SB 1094 is supported by Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Black Women for Wellness, Consumers Union, ACLU, NARAL Pro-Choice California, SEIU State Council, California Labor Federation, California Nurses Association, Health Access, United Nurses Association of California and the California Family Health Council.

As an obstetrician in Orange County, I am very familiar with how mergers can negatively affect the types of services offered in a community. Last fall when Hoag Hospital announced a merger with St. Joseph Health, obstetricians questioned our administration about the impact a merger would have on women’s health and abortion. Throughout the process, Hoag officials assured staff and the community there would be “no change” in services. You can imagine our dismay when we learned that Hoag, after the merger, would no longer offer comprehensive reproductive health care.

While working with the attorney general’s office to try to restore the women’s services that were cut or at risk by the merger, it became clear that the AG’s hands were tied – there are simply not enough protections in law to ensure access to women’s reproductive health care during the merger process.

Affected communities have a right to know what services will or will not be provided when a local hospital merges. By signing SB 1094, Gov. Brown can ensure that the attorney general has the time and tools needed so everyone’s interests are balanced throughout the process.

Proponents of SB 1094 are not anti-hospital mergers. They are pro community and pro reproductive health access. That’s why we all urge Gov. Brown to sign SB 1094.