Abington Memorial Hospital Should Not Kneel to Church Dogma

— by Ken Myers, Esq.

On its Facebook page, the Abington Memorial Hospital identifies itself as a not for profit institution, as follows:

Abington Health is a not-for-profit, regional healthcare provider serving residents of Montgomery, Bucks & parts of Philadelphia counties, comprised of Abington Memorial Hospital, Lansdale Hospital, two outpatient campuses & Abington Health Physicians.

Mission: Abington Health is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all by fostering healing, easing suffering, and promoting wellness in a culture of safety, learning and respect.

Abington Health will be the most trusted health care partner, consistently exceeding expectations for care, comfort and communication.”


Presumably because “Abington Health” is regulated by the state as a hospital, it is not listed in the Pennsylvania Department of State charitable registration system. But it has received any number of public benefits typical of non-profits:

  • Property tax exemption — Abington and Lower Moreland, to name just two of the townships in which it operates, have allowed the hospital to remove large parcels of land from the tax base to enlarge its operations.
  • Municipal services beyond those extended to others, such as vacating streets and changing traffic patterns to accommodate the hospital.
  • Volunteer workers without pay — community people provide untold hours of volunteer services to the hospital, greeting and helping to move and handle patients.
  • Abington Day — a fund raising event supported by the community every year.

Over the ninety years that this modest local hospital transformed — with these public benefits — into a large institution, the public has bestowed its gifts on the assumption that this is a non-sectarian institution.

The strength of Abington Memorial Hospital contrasts with the smaller nearby Catholic hospital, Holy Redeemer, that it now seeks to attach to its health system. Certainly no small part of the development of Abington Memorial is attributable to its appeal as a non-sectarian institution rendering community service based on medical and ethical principles, not religious dogma.

By accepting religious dogma as a limit on its medical service, Abington Health breaks a covenant with all  those donors and public officials who have supported it and its non-sectarian mission.

By imposing its religious dogma on Abington health as a condition of a commercial transaction, the Church violates a key principle of American law and practice. Religions are free here to promote their beliefs and practices by virtually every means but not by coercion.

Governments — federal, state and local — are barred by the Constitution from coercing religious practice. Non-governmental enterprises including charities are barred by statute from coercing their employees to follow religious dogma. Non-governmental enterprises that accommodate the public — including hospitals — are barred by statute from discriminating against people on the basis of their religion. This includes refusal or unwillingness to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures, consistent with competent medical care.

In this case, the Catholic Church is coercing Abington Health to discriminate against all women who do not share the church dogma regarding their reproductive rights.

Seeking to add more “catchment area” to its substantial geographic influence, Abington Health is agreeing to impose this coercion on those who are caught!
Ken Myers is a member of the board of JSPAN.

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