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ACLU, NARAL, Planned Parenthood Question Walgreens Over Catholic Health Partner

The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday sent a letter to Walgreens voicing concern about the company's decision to partner with a Catholic hospital to run some of its in-store health clinics, AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

Walgreens recently announced that the Catholic health system Providence Health would operate 25 new retail clinics in Oregon and Washington state.

Letter Details

The letter was signed by 19 groups, including ACLU, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Planned Parenthood and several LGBT-rights organizations. The groups asked Walgreens if the clinics would allow customers to purchase contraception, medication abortion drugs and drugs prescribed for physician-assisted death.

The letter noted that other health organizations have ceased offering abortion care after partnering with Providence Health. "In our states, we have consistently seen that when secular entities join with religious health systems, the services, information or referrals provided at the secular entity become limited by religious doctrine," the letter read.

According to the letter, Seattle-based Swedish Medical Center stopped providing abortion care after a 2012 partnership with Providence Health and Washington-based Harrison Medical Center stopped providing drugs for physician-assisted death after a 2013 partnership with a religious health system. Further, the letter stated that Washington-based Highline Medical Center agreed to comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services after a 2013 partnership with a religious health system (Blankinship, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/14). The directives ban Catholic facilities from performing sterilizations, abortions and certain other procedures (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/27).

The letter also asked Walgreens if the clinics would serve LGBT customers equally, and whether transgender customers would be able to receive hormone therapy prescriptions at the clinics in question.

Response

Colleen Wadden, spokesperson for Providence Health, said the hospital expects that the clinics will provide services only for minor illnesses and testing for sexually transmitted infections. Patients with other health issues will receive referrals to primary care physicians or specialists.

Wadden further stated that all patients would be treated equally, without regard to gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. She did not discuss contraception.

Meanwhile, Walgreens said more than 400 of its health clinics offer contraceptive services, and that those services would continue to be offered. Walgreens spokesperson Jim Cohn said, "We have no plans to change any of our current policies in light of the Providence relationship" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/14).