Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System have called off the plans for a merger, after controversy over the decision to end abortions at Abington Memorial Hospital.
The two institutions released a brief joint statement Wednesday afternoon:
"Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System have decided to end discussions regarding a potential partnership to create a larger health system. Together we had a bold vision that we believe would have served our community well. While we are disappointed, we believe this decision is in the best interest of both organizations. Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System will continue to seek opportunities to enhance the health of the communities we serve."

The news was cheered by activists who had argued against the merger, while anti-abortion groups expressed strong disappointment.

"I think this experience has given me great faith in our community, and in people's willingness to stand up for what they believe is right," said Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein, an Elkins Park resident who advocated against the merger. "Especially the doctors who are willing to basically say to their bosses, `We're not OK with this.'"

Mark Horman, a retired Abington physician who was at the hospital for 30 years, said Abington chief executive Laurence Merlis should resign because he had "probably lost the confidence of the community."

"I'm very pleased with the result, and sorry it had to happen in the first place," Horman said. "Reasonable people prevailed."

Members of the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania said they would continue to press Abington to stop performing abortions.

"Abortion is not health care," said Edel Finnegan, the group's executive director. "It is not something that women need."

The hospital has said it performs 50 to 60 abortions per year, of which many involve serious maternal complications or fetal defects. But Pat Stanton, another member of the Pro-Life Union, criticized the use of the word "defect." In protest, one year he and other group members brought children with Down syndrome and their parents to testify at a hospital board meeting.