By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter
Despite the litigious reputation of the ACLU, the San Juan County Public Hospital District again stood its ground when faced with questions about reproductive services and the subsidy from the hospital district to Peace Island Medical Center.
On Jan. 17, the Public Hospital District responded to a letter from the ACLU which raised the question whether the annual million-dollar subsidy to PIMC violates state law and the state constitution by providing county tax revenues to a hospital which the ACLU claims restricts services based on religious doctrine.
The ACLU letter, although it did not threaten legal action, concluded: “In sum, government cannot subsidize health care facilities that deny reproductive health services to the community based on its religious views.”
The hospital district’s response, signed by chairwoman Lenore Bayuk, insists that the subsidy agreement ensures “continued access to many healthcare services, including reproductive and end-of-life care.” The letter points out that the present services at PIMC were previously provided at Inter-Island Medical Center and “have not changed.”
The response did not address the ACLU contention that the subsidy agreement permits PeaceHealth, the Catholic Church-connected parent organization of PIMC, to determine the scope of services at PIMC and to amend its “ethical policies” which might “further restrict access to health services based on religious doctrine.”
Monica Harrington, one of the organizers of the local Coalition for Health Care Transparency and Equity, which in September first raised questions about the subsidy agreement, said she would continue her efforts to assure that the full range of reproductive and end-of-life services are provided at Peace Island Medical Center “now and in the future.”
“I’ve recently heard that the proposed merger of PeaceHealth into the Catholic Health Initiatives group of medical centers is moving forward, and that concerns me because CHI adheres closely to the Catholic Bishops’ ethical and religious directives,” Harrington said before a meeting of her group on Saturday, Jan. 19.
After that meeting, Harrington circulated a letter from her group asking state Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas) to request a formal opinion by the state attorney general on the issues raised by the ACLU. Attorney General’s Opinions are statements of the Attorney General’s official views on a legal question relating to a public officer’s duties. They may be requested by state legislators and other state officials about the legal effect of constitutional and statutory provisions on actions of government officials.