The ACLU of Washington has filed a lawsuit against Skagit Regional Health. It claims the public hospital’s policies create illegal barriers to abortion. Hospitals say they are required to offer abortions, but can’t make employees perform them.
The ACLU’s lawsuit says a public hospital is violating state law by referring patients to clinics to terminate their pregnancies.
The plaintiff is Kevan Coffey, a licensed nurse practitioner. She used to work for Skagit Regional Health, where she says there was an “unwritten policy” not to perform abortions. She says that concerned her as a health care provider and a woman of childbearing age.
Coffey: “In general it was just accepted that we didn’t really have those services available in our facilities so we were to refer them to Planned Parenthood.”
Clunies-Ross: “Hospitals and clinics refer patients outside all the time to get services that can’t be provided within the hospital structure.”
That’s Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, with the Washington State Hospital Association. She says state law requires that hospitals with maternity services offer “substantially equivalent” services for pregnancy termination. It’s not clear whether referrals meet that standard. But she says state law also protects employees from having to perform abortions.
Meanwhile officials with Skagit Regional Health say they are following state law and have performed abortions, but couldn’t say how many.
Connie Davis is Skagit Regional’s Chief Medical Officer.
Davis: “There’s no policy for a referral specifically or not doing terminations. The policy is that it’s a choice between the provider and the patient. And of note, too, that that also involves the fact that providers have the right to opt in or opt out of doing those procedures.”
In recent years the ACLU has opposed partnerships between public hospitals and Catholic health networks, because of possible constraints on abortion services.
Washington recently required public hospitals to submit their policies for reproductive health care. The ACLU’s Leah Rutman says they believe that other public hospitals also aren’t providing abortion services in-house.
Rutman: “We have gone through all these policies now that they’re available, and while many are vague and unclear, what really became apparent to us is they suggest a lot of these hospitals aren’t complying with the law.”
The ACLU has sent letters stating those concerns to hospitals in Jefferson and Mason counties, as well as Whidbey Island.