The decision by Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System to call off their short-lived plans for a merger is positive news for women's health care in the Philadelphia region, and also stands as a welcome display of the pivotal influence of stakeholders and everyday consumers.
In pulling the plug in the face of a groundswell of public opposition, hospital officials on Wednesday continued to insist they had "a bold vision that we believe would have served our community well" by linking the larger and more profitable Abington with smaller Holy Redeemer.
But what was most striking about the merger announced just three weeks ago — and what rightly proved to be so controversial — was that it held out the prospect of immediately reducing vital services for women and, by extension, their families.
In keeping with prohibitions at the Catholic-run Redeemer, Abington Memorial Hospital administrators were prepared to halt abortions there.
Beyond the impact on the 50 to 60 women who turn to Abington each year to terminate pregnancies, often due to serious complications or fetal abnormalities, there was an understandable fear among practitioners and patients alike that other reproductive care could be curtailed as well. Such a concession made even less sense, given that Abington appeared to be the dominant partner in the planned merger — yet it would be forced to eliminate critical care.
Even though antiabortion activists viewed the expected ban as progress for their cause, which isn't surprising, the merger would have limited women's access to safe and legal abortion at a time when elsewhere in Pennsylvania, stringent new state regulations are cutting back on such access.
Rules enacted under Gov. Corbett and just taking effect have forced abortion clinics statewide to meet hospital-grade standards — or lose the right to perform surgical abortions.
While Republican lawmakers pushed the rules as a needed response to a 2011 grand jury report alleging horrors at the West Philadelphia abortion clinic of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the state's 22 legal clinics operating perfectly safely under earlier standards have had to scramble to expand staffing and make costly improvements at their facilities.
So far, one clinic has closed and five others have eliminated surgical abortion procedures rather than meet the added expense.
It's little wonder then that the Abington-Holy Redeemer partnership was such a tough sell to the general public, since it also seemed to be bad medicine.
That message certainly came through loud and clear in the outcry over the plans, as women's groups, clergy, area residents, and about 150 physicians affiliated with Abington Memorial lined up solidly against the merger.
The controversial proposal also spawned a popular Facebook page opposing the deal; and although there's no evidence of it, it's not hard to imagine that major hospital donors made their views known.