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God Board compounds the trauma for patients

In the Tampa Bay area, a committee of people playing God has been given the ultimate authority to decide whether a woman can have an abortion at several local hospitals.

In Canada, the Salvation Army and a Catholic diocese are trying to force their employees to sign a moral code, pledging to shun such things as pornography, gambling and sex outside of marriage.

Both cases involve organizations trying to force their religious and moral beliefs on others.

In Canada, the Salvation Army is threatening to shut down one of its operations unless its unionized staff agrees to its "Christian lifestyle" code. The dispute follows a similar one at a Catholic elementary school in northern British Columbia last month.

A Roman Catholic bishop there closed the school after the union refused to accept a "Catholicity clause," which covered teachers' moral behavior.

The bishop sought total control over whether teachers at Immaculata Catholic School in Fort St. John could be fired for having abortions, engaging in homosexual acts or marrying a divorced person.

The British Columbia Government Employees Union, which is trying to negotiate a contract for employees at the Salvation Army, has condemned such moral codes.

Union officials also are questioning whether such clauses are becoming a trend in bargaining tactics at facilities with religious affiliations that also receive government funding.

"This attitude is not only outrageous, it's unconscionable," Canadian employees union official Sharon Bronson told the Religion News Service. "These workers provide outreach and support to society's most needy and vulnerable people. They deserve respect at the bargaining table, not threats by their employer."

The Canada dispute reminded me of the one closer to home involving a consortium of Tampa Bay area hospitals.

It's bad enough HMOs here are second-guessing doctors and patients, but now, at several Tampa Bay area hospitals, so is the God Board.

It's a review committee set up by the Baycare Network at the behest of two Catholic hospitals to evaluate cases in which women are seeking abortions. Its job is to decide which abortions are "medically necessary," even though the procedure is legal.

If a proposed abortion is not deemed medically necessary, meaning the woman would not die without it, then the woman is barred from having the procedure at any of its hospitals. Abortions involving fetuses with Down's syndrome have been among those the committee has ruled "elective" and has refused to allow.

The policy was instituted two years ago to woo Catholic-run hospitals into the network. The two hospitals _ St. Anthony's and St. Joseph's _ would agree to the merger only if there was an end to "elective abortions."

So now a woman, already distraught over the news that there are severe problems with her fetus, must also face the trauma of being second-guessed by a committee of strangers.

If the committee overrides the judgment of the patient and her doctor, then the woman has to go elsewhere to get the abortion, possibly a clinic with a practitioner she doesn't know.

The other hospitals in the network are Bayfront Medical Center, St. Petersburg; Morton Plant, Clearwater; Mease, Dunedin and Countryside; North Bay Medical Center, New Port Richey; and Florida Baptist Hospital, Plant City.

Hospital officials, who have been hesitant to talk about their policy, won't say how many women the God Board denied the right to have the procedure.

But it is heartbreaking to think that women, whose dreams of having a healthy baby are already destroyed, are being turned away because of the wishes of two institutions built on Christianity's nurturing beliefs.

What happened to judge not?

_ Twila Decker can be reached by phone at (727) 892-2253 or by e-mail at