Four proposals are under consideration, including two from Catholic health care organizations, which have triggered public opposition.
The letter from the ACLU of Washington, signed by 11 other community groups, cites concerns over the impact of tax-funded hospitals joining with Catholic health care organizations.
The letter said the church's religious directives can conflict with patient choices on birth control, in vitro fertilization and end-of-life issues, such as assisted suicide.
Serious state constitutional concerns can arise when public, tax-funded hospitals affiliate with religious health care corporations, the letter states.
The organizations which have proposed a business partnership with the three hospitals are: University of Washington Medicine, Seattle-based Virginia Mason, Catholic-affiliated Peace Health and Providence/Swedish, a collaboration between nonprofit Catholic and secular health care organizations that joined together in 2012.
Sarah Dunne, legal director for the ACLU of Washington, said the organization isn't asking for the two Catholic health care organizations to be removed from consideration.
Instead, Dunne said she would like the two Catholic organizations ensure in their proposals that the public have "the full range of medical care allowed under the law."
"It doesn't matter to us who provides the services," she said. "The point is residents should have access to these services. If they want to contract with a private entity to provide those services, we don't object to that."
Clark Jones, chief executive of Arlington's Cascade Valley Hospital, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Clark Todd, president of the board of commissioners for Skagit Regional Health in Mount Vernon, said he doesn't think his hospital would favor a moratorium.
The three hospitals have been considering a collaborative business affiliation for more than a year and expect to make a decision in about 60 days, he said. Those hospitals decided to join together to seek a partnership.
In Skagit County, proposals from the two Catholic health care organizations have drawn opposition from some residents and a group called People for Healthcare Freedom, citing some of the same concerns as those outlined in the ACLU letter.
Todd said he has met with representatives of People for HealthCare Freedom and understands their position. "We're trying to incorporate their feelings and positions into our deliberations," he said.
Marcel Loh, interim chief executive of Swedish Health Services, said there are no plans to withdraw the Providence/Swedish proposal.
In 2012, Swedish joined with a part of Providence serving the greater Puget Sound area.
They formed a new nonprofit health care system and that each kept their names, but share resources.
Prior to the business collaboration, Swedish conducted a limited number of elective abortions at one of its downtown Seattle hospitals, but discontinued the practice when the Providence deal was sealed.
Instead, Swedish made a donation to Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest to open a new Seattle clinic which performs a variety of women's health services, including birth control and abortion. The clinic is near, but not on, the Swedish campus.
The ACLU's Dunne said the arrangement sets up "segregated medical care.
"Women shouldn't have to go to a segregated facility to get medical care," she said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; email@example.com.
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