Can A Hospital Tell A Doctor To Stop Talking About Abortion? | KERA News

Can A Hospital Tell A Doctor To Stop Talking About Abortion?

May 5, 2016
Originally published on May 9, 2016 2:00 pm

One of the country's most outspoken abortion providers has filed a civil rights complaint against the hospital where she works, saying that it has wrongly banned her from giving media interviews.

Last fall Diane Horvath-Cosper, an obstetrician and gynecologist, did a lightning round of media interviews after a shooting attack killed three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, raising new safety concerns at health care facilities that perform abortions.

"I want women to be able to access abortion in a safe, legal, compassionate environment. So no, I'm not deterred," she told MSNBC then.

But one week after that, Horvath-Cosper says, she was called to a meeting with top officials at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia. They said it was a security matter.

"I was told that that the hospital was happy with the care we were providing for patients, but that they didn't want to put a Kmart blue-light special on the fact that we provided abortion," she says.

In the following weeks, the complaint says, MedStar denied a string of requests for Horvath-Cosper to speak with media and at another public event about abortion.

Horvath-Cosper's federal civil rights complaint says that the hospital's actions violate the decades-old "Church amendment." That bans federally funded health care providers from discriminating based on a doctor's moral conviction about abortion.

There's an irony to that.

"It's a provision that has been commonly used by and associated with those who oppose abortion," says Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women's Law Center, which helped file the complaint.

Borchelt also says MedStar's security argument doesn't make sense. According to the complaint, the hospital did hire a security guard for the family planning department, and put in cameras there. But Borchelt says it ignored other suggestions from the department.

"They could put in shatterproof glass, they could do ID checks, they could do bag checks," she says. "They have not done any of those things."

MedStar Washington declined an interview request for this story. In a statement, the hospital says it is "committed to providing family planning services for our community, and we do so in a respectful, private and safe environment."

Jeff Young is sympathetic. He heads the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, a professional organization. "The more outspoken a person is, a security person would say that the risk to that person, and to the facility they work in, would go up because of the publicity associated to it," he says.

But Young can't recall one of the hospitals who belong to the association ever banning a doctor from talking to the media — even after an abortion provider in Vancouver, British Columbia, was shot in the leg at his home years ago. In that case, the hospital did increase security and provided a personal security plan for the physician, Young says.

Horvath-Cosper is at MedStar Hospital through a fellowship, and she says advocacy is a key part of that job. Especially now, which she says is a tough time for abortion providers.

State lawmakers continue to pass a record number of abortion restrictions. The National Abortion Federation recorded a sharp rise in harassment and death threats after undercover videos that targeted Planned Parenthood last year.

Horvath-Cosper's complaint notes that there is a severe shortage of abortion providers.

"The message that we've all gotten in society is that abortion is shameful, and that people who have abortions should be ashamed, and I think that's something that we need to work against," she says.

Horvath-Cosper says she respects the many abortion providers who choose to stay silent, especially those in more conservative parts of the country with stricter laws. But she hopes her case will send the message that those willing to speak out have a right to do so.


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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of the country's most outspoken abortion providers says she has been wrongly silenced by the hospital where she works. It happened after last fall's shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the country, a woman named Diane Horvath-Cosper spoke out publicly about the added pressure on abortion clinics. She works at a hospital in Washington, D.C. Horvath-Cosper told MSNBC back then that the attack would not intimidate her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANE HORVATH-COSPER: I want women to be able to access abortion in a safe, legal, compassionate environment. So no, I'm not deterred.

MARTIN: But a week after those comments, her employer said no more interviews. She has filed a federal civil rights complaint saying that gag order is illegal. And she hopes her case emboldens abortion providers across the country. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: On December 4, Diane Horvath-Cosper says she was called to a meeting. Top officials at MedStar Washington Hospital Center here in Washington, D.C., were worried about security.

HORVATH-COSPER: I was told that the hospital was happy with the care we were providing for patients, but they didn't want to put a Kmart blue-light special on the fact that we provided abortion.

LUDDEN: MedStar then denied a string of media and other requests. Horvath-Cosper's legal complaint says that violates the decades-old church amendment. The law says federally funded hospitals can't discriminate based on a doctor's moral conviction about abortion. Now, there's an irony.

HORVATH-COSPER: It's a provision that has been commonly used by and associated with those who oppose abortion.

LUDDEN: Gretchen Borchelt is with the National Women's Law Center and helped bring the complaint. She also says MedStar's security argument doesn't make sense.

According to the complaint, the hospital did hire a security guard for the family planning department and put in cameras there. But Borchelt says it ignored the department's other suggestions.

GRETCHEN BORCHELT: They could put in shatterproof glass. They could do ID checks. They could do bag checks. They have not done any of those things.

LUDDEN: Medstar Washington declined an interview request. In a statement, the hospital says it's committed to providing family planning services for our community, and we do so in a respectful, private and safe environment.

Jeff Young is sympathetic. He heads the International Association for Healthcare, Security and Safety.

JEFF YOUNG: The more outspoken a person is, a security person would say that the risk to that person and to the facility that they work in would go up because of the publicity associated to it.

LUDDEN: But Young can't recall one of his hospitals ever banning a doctor from talking to the media. Even after an abortion provider named Garson Romalis was shot and wounded at his home in Vancouver.

YOUNG: We did increase our security, and we also provided a personal security plan for Dr. Romalis as well.

MARTIN: Diane Horvath-Cosper is a family planning fellow with MedStar Hospital. She says advocacy is a key part of that, especially now, a tough time for abortion providers.

State lawmakers continue to pass a record number of abortion restrictions.

The National Abortion Federation has tracked a sharp spike in harassment and death threats after last year's undercover videos that targeted Planned Parenthood. And as her legal complaint lays out, Horvath-Cosper says there's a severe shortage of abortion providers.

HORVATH-COSPER: The message that we've all gotten in society is that abortion is shameful and that people who have abortion should be ashamed, and I think that that's something that we need to work against.

LUDDEN: Horvath-Cosper says she respects the many abortion providers who choose to stay silent. But she hopes her case will send the message that those willing to speak out have a right to do so. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.