State: Some public hospitals must provide abortions

Public hospitals offering maternity care must also provide contraceptive and abortion services under a law passed in 1991, the state attorney general said Wednesday.

In Snohomish County, the opinion affects tax-supported hospitals in Edmonds and Arlington, which have maternity units.

The opinion by Attorney General Bob Ferguson did not spell out how the services must be provided, such as whether they must be provided on-site or whether hospitals can contract with other organizations.

The decision could also affect negotiations among public hospitals in Arlington, Anacortes and Mount Vernon.

The three hospitals are considering business proposals from four larger health care organizations, two of which are Catholic — Seattle-based Virginia Mason, Catholic-affiliated Peace Health, Seattle’s UW Medicine and Providence/Swedish, a collaboration between nonprofit Catholic and secular health care organizations in Western Washington.

The possibility of joining up with a Catholic health care organization has been opposed by a community group, People for HealthCare Freedom, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, over Catholic health care restrictions on birth control and prohibitions on abortion.

Clark Jones, chief executive of Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, said he didn’t think the attorney general’s ruling would slow a decision on which organization the three hospitals will join.

Jones said he thought a decision will likely be made during a meeting of the boards of the three hospitals Aug. 29 in Mount Vernon.

“If we were to select a Catholic health care organization with which to affiliate, any issues raised by the attorney general will have to be addressed,” he said. “I think that’s pretty clear.”

Jones said he didn’t think the hospital boards will allow the fact that there are complications with joining up with a Catholic organization to eliminate those organizations from consideration.

The three hospitals must make a decision on picking a business partner based on which organization can provide the most benefit to their communities, Jones said.

Clark Todd, president of the board of commissioners for Skagit Regional Health in Mount Vernon, said the hospitals seem to be on course to make a decision over the next week and a half.

Board members have no intention of agreeing to a business partnership with any organization that would diminish the services that are offered, including women’s health services, he said. “We’ve listened to our community.”

Ferguson was asked by an Orcas Island lawmaker whether public hospitals that do not provide reproductive care violate Initiative 120, which said residents have a fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control or abortion.

The law requires that public hospitals providing maternity care must also provide substantially equivalent benefits, services or information on contraception and abortion.

During a news conference to announce his decision, which he called a “formal opinion,” Ferguson said he was not asked to define what steps public hospitals would have to take to meet that standard.

Officials at Swedish/Edmonds hospital said late Wednesday afternoon that it was too soon to know how the ruling might affect its operations. The public hospital in Edmonds is the former Stevens Hospital; Swedish started running the hospital in 2010. Taxes are collected from property owners who live within the hospital district.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Suspect sought in two Everett bank robberies

He’s described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with dark hair and a goatee, and may have a neck tattoo.

Jogger unharmed after fending off attacker in Edmonds

Police released video of a man they believe to be the attacker.

Two missing men found, one alive and one dead

The man found alive was found in an apartment across the hallway and taken to a hospital.

Darrington School Board dealing with upheavals

The crux of the controversy seems to be the superintendent’s job.

Alaska Airlines has selected destinations for new service from Paine Field. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines will fly from Everett to 8 West Coast cities

Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.

Three teens arrested for Marysville school vandalism

Windows were broken and a trash bin was on fire Sunday night at a Marysville middle school.

Langley mayor threatens newspaper with lawsuit

The mayor threatened to sue the paper over claims he withheld public records disclosure information.

Divers called to recover body after train hits pedestrian

The accident was reported by a BNSF crew near Woods Creek in Monroe.

Katharine Graham, then CEO and chairwoman of the board of The Washington Post Co., looks over a copy of The Daily Herald with Larry Hanson, then The Herald’s publisher, during her visit to Everett on Sept. 20, 1984. The Washington Post Co. owned The Herald from 1978 until 2013. (Herald archives)
A local connection to history

Retired Herald publisher Larry Hanson remembers The Post’s Katharine Graham, who visited several times.

Most Read