Dane County Board urged not to renew contract with Catholic SSM Health


The advocacy arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog located in Madison, Wis., is urging the Dane County Board of Supervisors not to renew health care contracts with Catholic SSM Health. 

FFRF Action Fund thanked the board for announcing that it’s investigating potential contract violations in light of SSM Health’s recent decision to halt gender-affirming care. But this doesn’t go far enough. Dane County cannot consider itself a “sanctuary for trans people,” as its historic resolution did in June, while offering employees health care that discriminates against them.

“A public agency should not be contracting for health care services with an entity that is controlled by religious dogma rather than medical science,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Action Fund president. 

“Dane County employees deserve to be offered the full gamut of health care that is not subject to interference by Catholic bishops, whether it’s choosing sterilization, gender-affirming care or taking control of end-of-life decisions,” she adds.

The reevaluation of working with SSM Health is the result of revelations that a scheduled breast reduction procedure involving a transgender male teenager was summarily canceled. The procedure was nixed following a June vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to begin the process of adding a ban on transgender-affirming care in its Ethical and Religious Directives.

FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat D. Grant notes that Catholic hospitals control 40 percent of all hospital beds in Wisconsin. “Catholic health care systems are required to follow the ‘Ethical Religious Directives For Catholic Health Care Services’ created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Grant writes. “These directives place serious limitations on what types of health care patients can receive in Catholic health care facilities, restricting access to abortion, contraception, sterilization, and certain types of end-of-life care, not on the basis of science, but on the basis of Catholic theology.”

SSM Health includes St. Mary’s Hospital In Madison, six other Catholic hospitals, Dean Medical Group and other clinics.

As many as 21 states now ban gender-affirming care for minors. Wisconsin is not one of them, although such legislation has been introduced.

Given the quality of secular health care options in the area, there is no need for the

county to subsidize any religious organization, and certainly not one taking hardline stances that are contrary to the values of the community, FFRF Action Fund concludes.

FFRF Action Fund has about 40,000 advocates nationwide, including 1,700 in Wisconsin and hundreds in Dane County. About 11 percent overall identify as LGBTQ-plus. In Dane County, 40 percent of residents identify as religiously unaffiliated, higher than the national average of 29 percent. Additionally, 19 percent of the religiously unaffiliated are members of the LGBTQ-plus community.