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Our View: Thank you, doctors, who spoke about tubal surgery

There’s risk in speaking out. We journalists knew this when we signed up for this profession. We also have the First Amendment as backup to protect our free speech.

But obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians and other health care professionals don’t have this kind of support. Yet, in April, after Mercy Hospital in Durango, a Catholic hospital and part of the Centura Health system, stopped providing tubal ligations at the time of C-section, many of them were moved to say Mercy’s decision was a poor one. They risked consequences and stood up for women, families and their personal, reproductive choices.

And they did not hold back.

“Unethical,” “a complete disservice,” “no place for that in medicine,” they said – publicly – about women being denied tubal sterilization because of Mercy’s Catholic values.

We appreciate their strong, sincere words.

Also, a shout-out to doctors at Southwest Memorial Hospital who said come to Cortez, where reproductive health care, contraceptive and birth control services, including tubal ligations at the time of C-section, are available.

Tubal surgery, which involves cutting, blocking or removing the fallopian tubes that carry eggs, is a common form of contraception for women in the U.S. The procedure rates high for safety and efficacy. Following a C-section, it’s fairly easy, as far as surgeries go.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, doctors across the U.S. say they’re seeing a surge in the number of women who want their “tubes tied.” But that window of opportunity during hospitalization right after childbirth is often missed.

Instead, women have to consider a second surgery in other cities – and a second recovery. Other things to manage – child care, whether a different hospital would accept insurance, time spent, more expenses and additional risk of infection with another surgery.

Mothers post-childbirth in the Southwest – or anywhere – should not have to endure all that.

No wonder 40% to 60% of women who had previously requested tubal ligation end up not getting it. The data speaks to the importance of offering the surgery at the time of C-section.

According to a May 2014 National Institutes of Health study of “Tubal Ligation in Catholic Hospitals: A Qualitative Study of Ob-Gyns’ Experiences,” the ban isn’t uniformly enforced. Obstetrician-gynecologists who had to adhere to directives in Catholic hospitals disagreed with the church’s beliefs on sterilization. They said their inability to provide tubal sterilization was a risk of harm to women because of the unnecessary second surgery.

That study was nine years ago – a significant stretch of time in the evolution of health care. Sadly, we’re not further along in women receiving the best, most appropriate health care when they want and need it. This compromises families.

The Catholic Church is a large stakeholder in the U.S. health care system, growing 16% between 2001 and 2011, according to the NIH study, while public, secular hospitals and other nonprofit hospitals saw numbers decline.

Also in April, a Colorado Senate bill became law, requiring hospitals to disclose to patients if they do not provide reproductive health care, including tubal ligation at the time of C-section, among other things. This transparency is a good start. Patients are also consumers. We expect more business heading to Southwest Memorial.

Questions of religion versus ethics and ethics in religion will continue as they always have. In the meantime, for the health care professionals who stood up for women and families, and said something, thank you for your professionalism and courage.

Here in the Four Corners, you really do put the “care” in health care.