Fuller Project contributing editor Rikha Sharma Rani partnered with Wisconsin Watch’s Parker Schorr to publish a series about limitations on reproductive healthcare in Catholic hospitals in Wisconsin and their impact on women, particularly Black women and women of color. The series, published by Wisconsin Watch and The Cap Times and picked up by The Washington Post, spotlighted Wisconsin’s heavy reliance on Catholic healthcare. Catholic hospitals are subject to regulations imposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that limit access to some reproductive procedures — abortion, contraceptive care, in vitro fertilization and tubal ligation, for example. Black people in low-income neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by these limitations.
The Fuller Project and Wisconsin Watch jointly purchased data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association to identify which services were being provided by individual hospitals in Wisconsin. Analysis of the data confirmed that Catholic hospitals were by and large not providing long-lasting reversible contraception, for example, but that practices varied widely even among Catholic hospitals subject to the same rules. In some cases, Sharma Rani and Schorr found that Catholic hospitals were using workarounds to provide services that were otherwise restricted. One hospital, for instance, was providing tubal ligations at a nearby eye clinic.
The investigation also found that, in some parts of the state, the only nearby hospital was Catholic and that many women were unaware that their local hospital was Catholic or that access to certain reproductive procedures was effectively blocked. In certain situations, such as if a woman had pregnancy complications, this was putting women’s health at risk. The collaboration drew on Schorr’s intimate knowledge of the health landscape in Wisconsin and Sharma Rani’s extensive reporting on reproductive health, resulting in a fair-minded, deeply reported look at the intersection between religion and women’s health (a representative of the Catholic Church told Sharma Rani that he believed the reporting was balanced).
Wisconsin Watch said that the collaboration brought attention to the issue of lack of choice and access to secular reproductive care for women, especially women of color, in the state. The reporting won the Milwaukee Press Club Silver Award for Best Consumer Story.