Contraception Ban At Oklahoma Hospital Lifted After Social Media Backlash

As the Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Obamacare’s contraception mandate last week, a microcosm of that same debate was playing out at a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma. A week ago, physicians at Jane Phillips Medical Center were told by their employer, St. John Health System, that they were no longer allowed to prescribe contraceptives for purposes of birth control. But when word of this meeting got out, outrage ensued, and within four days, SJHS reversed its policy.

According to the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, doctors at Jane Phillips were told in a closed-door meeting last week that they were prohibited from prescribing contraceptives for reasons relating to birth control; they could, however, prescribe it for other symptoms. Several local women confirmed this to the paper, one of whom said that she was denied an appointment to get an IUD because of the new policy.

Within days, a Facebook page was created to rally opposition to the prohibition. By Monday, it had been viewed 43,000 times, and now has over 1,000 likes. Apparently, this online activism was enough to compel SJHS to change its policy, as it released the following statement on Monday:

Consistent with Catholic health care organizations, St. John Health System operates in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and therefore does not approve or support contraceptive practices. However, only physicians (not institutions) are licensed to practice medicine and make medical judgments. While our physicians agree to abide by the Directives, they also have the ability to prescribe medications, including hormonal medications, in accordance with their independent professional medical judgment. This includes informing patients when they are operating under their own professional medical judgment and not on behalf of St. John Health System.

It’s a vaguely-worded statement, but the gist of it is that physicians are allowed to prescribe whatever they want, including birth control, but they can’t imply that SJHS supports or condones their decision to do so. Robert Oliver, a local OB-GYN who doesn’t work for the hospital, called the ruling “a victory for the doctor-patient relationship and simply for doctors making decisions for which they’re trained.”

The Supreme Court is currently weighing whether or not employers who object to contraception on religious grounds may be allowed to completely circumvent the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement.