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Tubal ligation in Catholic hospitals: a qualitative study of ob–gyns' experiences

      Abstract

      Objective

      Tubal sterilization remains one of the most commonly requested contraceptive methods in the United States. Catholic hospital policy prohibits all sterilizations, but this ban is not uniformly enforced. We conducted this study to assess obstetrician–gynecologists' beliefs and experiences with tubal ligation in Catholic hospitals.

      Study design

      We interviewed 31 obstetrician–gynecologists geographically dispersed throughout the US who responded to a national survey and agreed to be contacted for a follow-up interview or who were referred by colleagues from the survey sample. Twenty-seven had experienced working in a Catholic hospital. Interviews were open ended and guided by a semistructured instrument. Transcripts were thematically analyzed.

      Results

      Obstetrician–gynecologists disagreed with strict prohibition of sterilizations, especially when denying a tubal ligation placed the patient at increased medical risk. Cesarean delivery in Catholic hospitals raised frustration for obstetrician–gynecologists when the hospital prohibited a simultaneous tubal ligation and, thus, sent the patient for an unnecessary subsequent surgery. Obstetrician–gynecologists described some hospitals allowing tubal ligations in limited circumstances, but these workarounds were vulnerable to changes in enforcement. Some obstetrician–gynecologists reported that Catholic policy posed greater barriers for low-income patients and those with insurance restrictions.

      Conclusion

      Obstetrician–gynecologists working in Catholic hospitals in this study did not share the Church's beliefs on sterilization. Research to understand patients' experiences and knowledge of their sterilization options is warranted in order to promote women's autonomy and minimize risk of harm.

      Implications statement

      Tubal sterilization, even when medically indicated or in conjunction with cesarean delivery, is severely restricted for women delivering in Catholic hospitals. For women whose only access to hospital care is at a Catholic institution, religious policies can prevent them from receiving a desired sterilization and place them at risk for future undesired pregnancy.

      Keywords

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