SEATTLE — Washington Attorney General Robert Ferguson and Deputy Solicitor Alan Copsey recently released an opinion outlining that state law requires publicly-funded hospitals to provide abortion services if they also offer maternity care.
“I fully expect all public hospital districts to comply with this opinion,” Ferguson stated at a recent news conference.
The opinion was a response to state Senator Kevin Ranker of Olympia, who asked, “Does a public hospital district violate [the law] if it solely contracts with a provider of health care services that refuses to provide services or information including contraceptive care, voluntary termination of pregnancy care, and other services that relate to a patient’s fundamental rights … and the public hospital district does not provide ‘substantially equivalent benefits, services, or information’ with respect to voluntary termination of pregnancy care…?”
Ranker was referring to a 1991 law known by legislators as I-120, which mandates that public hospitals that provide maternity care must also offer the “equivalent” in terms of abortion and contraception.
“In enacting I-120, the people declared ‘that every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions’, and imposed certain requirements on the state to protect that fundamental right,” Ferguson and Copsey replied. “Our opinion here flows directly from the plain language the people adopted to secure that right.”
The men explained that the wording of the law requires public hospitals that choose to help pregnant women to also assist abortion-minded mothers.
“At the end of the day, if you’re a … public hospital that provides maternity services, if you do that, then you must provide substantially equivalent services related to contraception and abortion,” the opinion stated. “There are more than 50 public hospitals in Washington and this affects all of them.”
In terms of situations where a public hospital contracts with religiously-owned medical organizations that will not perform abortions nor provide contraception, the hospital would be in violation of the law if it did not somehow find a way for the services to be performed.
“In short, in the scenario you describe, where a public hospital district provides ‘maternity care benefits, services, or information to women’ and fails to provide the ‘substantially equivalent benefits, services, or information’ required in [the law], the district would violate [state regulations],” Ferguson and Copsey wrote.
Therefore, they explained, if public hospitals don’t want to offer abortion services at their facilities, then they need to stop offering maternity care.
“It is clear under the statute, however, that public hospital districts may not administer or fund programs to provide ‘maternity care benefits, services, or information to women’ without also making provision for the [abortion] rights secured by RCW 9.02.100 and .160,” the opinion advised. “I-120 does not require that a public hospital district provide ‘maternity care benefits, services, or information to women.'”
Reaction to the opinion has been mixed.
“Medical decisions are best made between a woman and her doctor,” Treasure Mackey of Planned Parenthood Northwest told Seattle PI. “Today’s opinion ensures that in Washington’s public hospitals, women are entitled to receive the care they need, without interference by religious doctrine.”
Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington said that he viewed the matter as another attempt by the government to force Christians and those of other religious faiths to violate their consciences.
“While unfortunate, this decision should not be viewed in isolation. In fact, it is a local manifestation of a national campaign to require conformity with government dogma on issues like abortion as a condition of being part of the public square,” he wrote in an article about the matter. “The federal government is telling the Catholic Church they must pay for contraceptives in violation of their faith. The same federal government is also telling private companies like Hobby Lobby they must provide insurance coverage for contraception in violation of their beliefs.”
“[Ferguson and Copsey’s] argument states that the government cannot ‘discriminate’ in the administration of health care which has the result of the government having a preference for medical providers who like abortion. The discriminatory impact this has on medical providers because of their beliefs has apparently been lost on them,” he continued. “While advocates for the abortion industry will hail this decision as a victory for choice and access to health care, what this really represents is a continuation of heavy handed moralism by government and a continued shift in the way we view rights.”