The City Council yesterday voted to provide a $5.6 million tax increment finance subsidy to Presence Health. I was one of 18 aldermen who voted against the subsidy. Allow me to explain why.
The subsidy was given to entice the health care provider to move its headquarters, and the 200 jobs that came with it, from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. As part of the deal, Presence agreed to open health clinics in four medically under-served neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides, including Avondale, Belmont-Craigan, Calumet Heights and West Town.
This development deal represents the latest in a series of efforts by Mayor Emanuel to leverage downtown developments to support critical needs in under-served communities. Though I commend the Mayor’s efforts to entice health care providers to open clinics in neighborhoods where local health services are scare, I could not in good conscience vote to use tax dollars to support a medical provider that denies women patients basic reproductive health care services.
Presence Health is a Catholic health care provider and, as such, adheres to the U.S. Conference of Bishop’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. Though media coverage of the debate about this subsidy has centered on the refusal of Presence to provide abortion services and counseling, the Catholic Bishops’ Directives extend far beyond banning abortions to include a vast array of reproductive health care services, including contraceptive pregnancy prevention care, tubal ligations and miscarriage treatment.
Under the Directives, women patients at Catholic hospitals and health clinics have:
- No ability to choose modern contraception, including sterilization (Directives 52, 53)
- Restrictions upon treatment for ectopic pregnancy (Directive 48)
- No access to in vitro fertilization (Directives 39, 40, 41); none of the benefits of embryonic stem cell research (Directive 51)
- No deference to their advanced medical directives (Directive 24)
- No access to emergency contraception, except in cases of sexual assault after it can be proven that pregnancy has not occurred (Directive 36)
In short, Presence Health allows religious restrictions to define and limit the kind of health care their women patients receive. As a private, religiously-based institution, Presence Health may be entitled under the First Amendment to observe its religious beliefs, but we as taxpayers should not directly subsidize a health care provider that relies on its religious beliefs to deny women such basic care.
Having said that, this vote was not easy.
Many low-income communities of color lack access to critical health care services and Presence Health possesses an excellent track record of providing quality care for a full range of health care services other than reproductive health care. Many of my City Council colleagues yesterday spoke eloquently of the lack of access to critical health care needs in their neighborhoods–including treatment for cancer, diabetes and hypertension–and their hope that Presence can fulfill some of those needs.
I am also mindful that the City Council four years ago unanimously approved a subsidy to Swedish Covenant Hospital to upgrade its emergency room and build a women’s health center despite the fact Swedish does not perform elective abortions. And here in Rogers Park, I joined with community activists to bring to our community two critically needed Heartland Health Care Centers even though Heartland is restricted by its funding sources from offering abortion counseling services.
But neither Swedish Covenant nor Heartland operate under the more restrictive Catholic Bishops’ Directives and both providers offer other reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, and treatment for infertility and miscarriages, all of which are basic services essential to women’s health care. It’s been clearly documented that denial of such services can lead to devastating health consequences.
In short, this goes far beyond a debate over a “social issue.” This is a debate over the quality of health care provided. All people–men and women–should receive the full range of health care services they need.
For these reasons, I voted against providing Presence Health a taxpayer subsidy.