SEATTLE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against a hospital in Washington in an effort to force the facility to perform abortions on-site.
The suit claims that Skagit Regional Health is not following state’s Reproductive Privacy Act, which requires medical facilities that provide maternity care to likewise offer abortion services. The legal challenge was filed on behalf of Kevan Coffey, a licensed nurse practitioner and doctoral nursing student.
“As a woman and a health care provider, I care deeply about reproductive health issues. I want to make sure that women throughout Washington have access to the full range of reproductive health care services,” she said in a statement. “And I personally want to have all options, including abortion, available to me.”
The ACLU asserts that Skagit Regional Health has been providing maternity services, but does not offer drug-induced abortions and rarely performs surgical abortions. It is asking the court to order the hospital to make abortions more readily available.
“The right of women to choose or to refuse to have an abortion is fundamental and has long been recognized under Washington law,” said Executive Director Kathleen Taylor. “We want to ensure that all women in our state can access the full range of reproductive health care at public health facilities in their communities.”
The organization has also sent letters to hospitals in Mason County, Jefferson County, and Whidbey Island to urge compliance.
As previously reported, in 2013, Attorney General Robert Ferguson and Deputy Solicitor Alan Copsey released an opinion likewise stating that hospitals must offer such services under the law if they also offer maternity care.
“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.’”
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.
“[I]t 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.