July 21, 2015 — The hospital board of Jefferson Healthcare on Wednesday unanimously approved a new, comprehensive reproductive health policy that will include abortion care, after receiving a letter of concern from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Peninsula Daily News reports.
Kate Burke, a spokesperson for Jefferson Healthcare, said there is not an official timetable on implementing the new policy, but that it should be in place in 2016. ACLU and community members will monitor implementation (Bermant, Peninsula Daily News, 7/16).
The state's Reproductive Privacy Act, adopted in 1991, says that the state cannot deny or interfere with a woman's right to have an abortion. It also requires medical facilities in the state that provide maternity care to also offer abortion services (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/20).
In February, ACLU of Washington informed the hospital board that the hospital was not complying with the state law regarding the provision of abortion care. ACLU sent similar letters to Mason General Hospital and Whidbey General Hospital (Peninsula Daily News, 7/16). In addition, ACLU also filed a lawsuit against Skagit Regional Health, the third-largest public hospital district in Washington and the operator of several clinics and a large hospital, for allegedly not complying with the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/20).
According to the Daily News, the hospital board approved the recommendations of an 11-member task force that was assembled in response to ACLU's letter of concern.
Specifically, Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn said the hospital will establish a "one stop" source for pregnant women that provides counseling, care options and referrals; an office-based program to manage surgical miscarriages; and a medication abortion program. He said after those programs are implemented, the hospital also will develop a surgical abortion program.
Burke said now that the recommendations have been approved, the hospital next will create a panel tasked with developing a plan to implement the new policy. According to Burke, that panel will start meeting together in the fall.
Christel Hildebrandt, a community representative on the task force, said "the hospital has been very responsive and responsible" in approving the recommendations. "The board recognized that the hospital is publicly owned, and the majority of the members of the public [whom] I talked to said they wanted a full suite of women's healthcare services," she said.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Shaw, deputy director at ACLU of Washington, said, "We were pleased how responsive they were in creating the task force and approving its recommendations."
Shaw added that the hospital's response "could serve as a model for other rural hospitals, in their staying connected to the needs of the community," such as by sharing information on the new policy implementation with the other hospitals that ACLU notified of noncompliance. According to Shaw, Whidbey and Mason have not made significant progress since being notified (Peninsula Daily News, 7/16).