February 20, 2015 — The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington on Thursday filed a lawsuit against a public hospital district, accusing it of violating a state law that requires medical facilities in the state that provide maternity care to also offer abortion services, Reuters reports.
In addition, ACLU of Washington sent letters to three other public hospital districts in the state that it believes are not following the state law.
The state's Reproductive Privacy Act, adopted in 1991, also says that the state cannot deny or interfere with a woman's right to have an abortion.
The lawsuit was filed against Skagit Regional Health, the third-largest public hospital district in Washington and the operator of several clinics and a large hospital. The suit alleges that the hospital district provides a wide range of maternity care services but does not provide medication abortions and rarely offers surgical abortions.
ACLU of Washington in the suit said that Skagit Regional on a regular basis referred women seeking abortions to other, off-site providers, such as Planned Parenthood, instead of performing abortions at the hospital district's clinics and hospitals.
ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor said in a statement, "The right of women to choose or to refuse to have an abortion is fundamental and has long been recognized under Washington law" (Cavaliere, Reuters, 2/19).
Kevan Coffey, the plaintiff in the case and a doctoral student in nursing and licensed nurse practitioner, added, "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 services" (Johnson, AP/Yakima Herald, 2/19).
Meanwhile, Skagit Regional said that it provides both medication and surgical abortions. It said that some of its physicians and nurses have opted not to participate in abortion procedures both under the hospital district's policy and under a state provision that it says allows individual medical staffers to do so.
Skagit Regional said that if a physician refuses to perform an abortion, "the hospital will use reasonable efforts to arrange for other health care professionals to deliver the care for the patient."
However, ACLU of Washington said that the referral policy is not compliant with the Reproductive Privacy Act (Reuters, 2/19).