Cross on American flag Catholicconglomerates are some of the largest hospital systems in the U.S.,raising concerns about issues such as abortion, birth control andgender confirmation surgery. (Photo:Shutterstock)

The proposed merger of a well-regarded secular hospital systemand a larger Roman Catholic system in Washington state hastriggered new alarms about religious restrictions on patients'access to care.

Virginia Mason Health System and CHI Franciscan announced plans in mid-July to form a joint operating companyincluding 12 hospitals and more than 250 other treatment sites inthe Puget Sound region and the Yakima area in central Washington.They touted the deal as a way to improve care.

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