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Wash. Attorney General: Public Hospitals Must Comply With Abortion Law

Public hospital districts that provide maternity care must also ensure that abortion and contraception services are available to women. That’s the opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office yesterday. It comes on the heels of recent hospital partnerships that involve religious organizations. Critics have been trying to put the brakes on these contracts until there’s proper oversight.

One of the critics is state Senator Kevin Ranker. His district has been in the middle of at least two controversial partnerships that involve religious organizations. “These organizations are providing excellent care,” he said. “It becomes a problem, however, when that institution decides they’re going to limit the services they provide based on their religious beliefs.” Specifically, services like abortion, family planning and even end-of-life care.

So Ranker asked the Attorney General’s Office to weigh in. He wanted to know, if these faith-based organizations are receiving public funds through hospital districts, aren’t they required to provide certain services like abortion?

In short, the answer is yes.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says those services are legally protected under Initiative 120, the abortion rights measure that voters passed in 1991. At a press briefing Wednesday, Ferguson said hospital districts have a responsibility. “At the end of the day, if you’re a hospital, public hospital that provides maternity services, if you do that, then you must provide substantially equivalent services related to contraception and abortion.”

Ferguson says his opinion does not apply to private hospitals. It doesn’t address whether hospitals should be permitted to form partnerships. Instead, it looks only at specific services that public hospitals provide.

Hospitals have been consolidating and forming partnerships as way to survive. The pace has picked up in recent years. Ferguson estimates the opinion will affect about 50 hospital districts in Washington that use tax dollars to fund the health needs in communities.

Ranker says now that the attorney general has provided clarification, he’ll be watching how hospital districts respond. If providers deny these services, Ranker says he’s ready to step in again to make sure they comply.

Year started with KUOW: 1994