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

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Jim Mathis, the Vietnam veteran whose Marysville garden was recently featured in The Herald, died Wednesday. Mathis, who suffered from PTSD and cancer, found solace in his beautiful garden. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Vietnam veteran Jim Mathis found peace in his garden

The Marysville man who served two tours died Wednesday after suffering from cancer and PTSD.

Smith Island habitat restoration cost to rise $1.2 million

The project is intended to increase survival rates for juvenile chinook salmon.

Add deputies and bump taxes a bit, executive proposes

Dave Somers’ Snohomish County budget proposal also would address traffic problems in neighborhoods.

County councilman proposes banning safe injection sites

Nate Nehring says county officials also should find “credible, long-term solutions to addiction.”

Car crashes near Everett after State Patrol pursuit

The driver and a second person in the car suffered injuries.

They chose the longshot candidate to fill a vacant seat

Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick will serve as representative for the 39th legislative district.

Trump trying to turn around GOP holdouts on health bill

Arizona Sen. John McCain announced Friday that he would not vote for the proposal.

Ivory dealer gets prison after aiding smuggler’s prosecution

Man was charged in 2013 with smuggling and violating the Lacey Act.

Most Read