Docs fold arms

A prominent statue of Jesus stands outside the front doors of Alaska’s flagship Catholic hospital, while inside health providers refer women for abortions, provide contraceptive pills known to cause early abortions, and offer numerous services that are in direct violation of Catholic moral and ethical teachings.

Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage is Alaska’s largest hospital. Originally founded by the religious organization known as the Sister of Providence to serve Alaskans’ medical needs, it now partners with physicians that provide medical services in direct conflict with Catholic principles regarding human life.


In 2011, the hospital opened its doors to the offices of Alaska Women’s Health Center (AWHC), a group that includes one of Alaska’s most notorious abortion doctors, Jan Whitefield. While AWHC does not promote abortion services on its website, clinic staff do refer pregnant women to Planned Parenthood for abortions, and the center’s website directs patients to Planned Parenthood for access to contraception and the morning after pill. Additionally, AWHC offers 16 forms of hormonal or barrier contraception as well as permanent sterilization for both women and men. All of these services violate the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic hospitals as established by U.S. Catholic bishops. The ERDs give specific instructions to hospitals on how to operate in harmony with Catholic moral and ethical teachings.


On the AWHC website, the health center also advertises access to Plan B, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says blocks fertilization by preventing egg release.

According to the ERDs, which Providence claims to follow, a woman “who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault.” The directives state that if there is “no evidence that conception has occurred already” a woman may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation or fertilization. The directives clarify that it is “not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”

Plan B, however, when taken during the two-day window in which embryos can form but positive pregnancy tests don’t occur, can prevent a conceived human embryo from implanting in the uterus, thus causing an early abortion and killing the growing baby.


When contacted by the Alaska Watchman about the medical practices of AWHC, Providence emailed back vague statements that failed to address specific questions. Providence was asked whether all physicians leasing office space are required to adhere to the Ethical & Religious Directives. They were also asked how this is monitored or enforced, and whether Providence has done, or plans to do, anything to address the fact that AWHC continues to openly advertise services in conflict with the ERDs.

In a Dec. 20 email, Mikal Canfield, Providence’s senior manager of external communications, claimed that physicians who practice or lease space in Providence are “expected to follow sound medical practice and the Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.” He added, “When acting on their own time,” and “at other facilities” physicians who also work at Providence “perform a number of procedures … including those that aren’t Catholic sponsored.”

Canfields said, “When concerns are brought to our attention about commitment to the ERDs, we engage in conversation with providers and communicate expectations.”

Follow up questions to Cainfields about why Alaska Women’s Health Center continues to advertise services at Providence that are in conflict with the ERDs were given the following response: “Providence addresses issues related to the Ethical and Religious Directives directly with providers and physician offices. This is all we are able to provide at this time.”


Dr. Jan Whitefield, has worked for AWHC for more than 26 years, and according to the clinic’s website, he is “a vital part of our organization.” His name and office are posted in the lobby at Providence.

In a 2001 case before the Alaska Supreme Court he testified to regularly performing abortions on minor girls.

Since 2011 Whitefield has operated out of Providence, where he no longer advertises abortions. Nevertheless, he has performed hundreds of abortions with AWHC before moving into to Providence and he remains one of the most vocal and public supporters of abortion on demand in Alaska.

Whitefield joined Planned Parenthood in a 2016 case before the Alaska Supreme Court that successfully struck down a law requiring doctors to notify the parents of minor girls before they perform abortions on them. In a 2001 case before the Alaska Supreme Court he testified to regularly performing abortions on minor girls. A 2015 case advocating the public funding for “medically necessary” abortions noted that Whitefield considered all abortions “medically necessary” by the fact that a woman chooses to have one.


When Whitefield and AWHC first opened shop at Providence in 2011, then Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz tried to address the scandal of having a notorious abortion doctor working at the state’s flagship Catholic hospital.

In a 2011 statement Archbishop Schwietz said his staff were working with leadership at the hospital to explain the gravity of the situation and to ensure that the hospital was operating in accord with Catholic moral principles and be “a clear witness to Catholic values in all it does.”

If it is discovered that a Catholic health care institution might be wrongly cooperating with immoral procedures, the local diocesan bishop should be informed immediately,

He was told that AWHC and Whitefield signed agreements that they would not violate Catholic ethical teachings. That was nearly nine years ago. Since then Archbishop Schwietz has retired and was succeeded by Archbishop Paul Etienne who was transferred to Seattle in 2019. Bishop Andrew Bellisario now exercises temporary oversight of the Anchorage Archdiocese. Through all these changes, Whitefield has continued to operate out of Providence and his group persists in advertising and offering services in direct violation of Catholic moral principles.

According to the Ethical and Religious Directives, “If it is discovered that a Catholic health care institution might be wrongly cooperating with immoral procedures, the local diocesan bishop should be informed immediately,” and “the leaders of the institution should resolve the situation as soon as reasonably possible.”

Bishop Bellisario could not be reached over the Christmas break, but John Harmon, chancellor for the Anchorage Archdiocese, said he plans to meet with Providence representatives in January regarding these issues.

This is a developing story.


The Providence Alaska Region Board provides leadership in operational performance, strategic development, and oversight of ministries within Providence Health & Services Alaska. The board has delegated authority for medical staff appointments, termination of membership and clinical privileges, medical staff bylaws and patient grievances. Click here to contact the board.

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Alaska’s flagship Catholic hospital refers for abortion, violates ethical directives

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.