ACLU calls on hospital district to comply with state law

In a recent article posted on the blog of American Civil Liberties  Union of Washington State, ACLU has reiterated its stance to San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1, saying the district is not in compliance with Washington State’s Reproductive Privacy Act in its contract to PeaceHealth.

Peace Island Medical Center does not provide abortions, stating “elective abortion is not performed in any PeaceHealth-owned, operated or leased facility.” PeaceHealth is a Catholic health care ministry that is not owned by the Catholic Church.

Local access to reproductive healthcare is a particularly important issue to the San Juan community as San Juan Island is exactly that – an island,” the article reads. “The hospital district’s failure to provide termination information and services limits reproductive health care access to women who already face barriers to care, including the isolated nature of the island and the costs of leaving (and returning to) the island to obtain care.”

ACLU is addressing the same issue with other hospitals in Washington, and is currently suing Skagit Regional Health for failing to comply, while similar letters have been sent to hospitals on Whidbey Island and Mason County.

ACLU sent a letter to the hospital board of commissioners of San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1 July, 8, saying that the district is not complying with state law because of its contract to Peace Island Medical Center.

Below is the complete letter sent to the board of commissioners:

“Dear Commissioners,

We write to express our concern that San Juan County Public Hospital District No.1 (hereinafter “the District”) is not in compliance with the Reproductive Privacy Act (“RPA”), RCW 9.02. As you are aware, the RPA establishes that “[e]very woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion” and that public hospital districts “shall not deny or interfere” with this fundamental right. RCW § 9.02.100(2)-(3).

State law also requires that if a public hospital district provides maternity care benefits, services, or information, it must also provide substantially equivalent abortion benefits, services or information. RCW § 9.02.160.

The Attorney General of the State of Washington has affirmed that maternity care includes “a broad range of prenatal, childbirth and postpartum services and information” and that a public hospital district that provides maternity care is also required to provide the substantially equivalent abortion care. Wash. Att’y Gen. Op.2013 No. 3, 2013 WL 4517410, at *4-5 (hereinafter “AGO”).

The Attorney General has found that a public hospital district that provides maternity care, but does not provide abortion care, violates both RCW § 9.02.160 and RCW § 9.02.100(4) by discriminating against the exercise of the fundamental rights recognized in the RPA.AGO at *5. In fact, this AGO was written in response to a question that focused onSan Juan County Public Hospital District No.1’s contract with PeaceHealth. AGO at*2.

In this contract PeaceHealth, a religious health care corporation, agreed to construct and operate a clinic/hospital, and the District agreed to subsidize the operation of the clinic/hospital by providing a substantial portion of the District’s annual tax revenue. Id.It is our understanding that the District, has contracted with PeaceHealth for the provision of health care services through Peace Island Medical Center (hereinafter “PIMC”).

PIMC has asserted that prenatal services and “[g]ynecologic and ongoing pregnancy care is delivered at Peace Island Medical Center.”1 However, PIMC’s reproductive health care policy states that “PeaceHealth does not allow direct abortions.”2

Indeed, PIMC’s website clearly states that “[e]lective abortions are not performed,” “RU 486…will not be provided” and “PeaceHealth does not refer directly to providers who perform procedures prohibited at PeaceHealth facilities (i.e.abortion. . .).”3

It is therefore our understanding that while the District provides maternity care services through PIMC, it does not provide the substantially equivalent abortion care. Instead, it has contracted with, and is providing a substantial portion ofthe district’s annual tax revenue to, an entity that prohibits abortion services.

The District cannot contract away its obligation to comply with the RPA.We believe that the District’s failure to provide abortion care violates state law. As apublic hospital district serving the residents of San Juan Island, the District has a vitalresponsibility to provide reproductive health care services as required by state law.

Therefore, we request that the District change its policies and practices to fulfill its obligations under the RPA.

Sincerely,

Leah Rutman

Policy Counsel”

 

1 PeaceHealth Peace Island: Benefiting the Community, http://www.peacehealth.org/peaceisland/Pages/Peace-Island-Benefitting-the-Community.aspx(last accessed July 8, 2015).

2 PeaceHealth Reproductive Health Care Policy available athttp://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/2300/HospPolicies/PeaceHealthIslandRH.pdf (lastaccessed July 8, 2015)

3 News at PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center, Answering Your Questions: Reproductive Health,End-of-Life Care, Discrimination (April, 9 2013), https://www.peacehealth.org/peaceisland/Pages/Answering-Your-Questions-Reproductive-Health,-End-of-Life-Care,-Discrimination–.aspx (last accessed July 8, 2015).