A Washington judge ruled Tuesday that public hospitals that offer maternity services must also perform abortions on site.
Skagit County Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis ruled that Skagit Regional Health as a public hospital must perform abortions. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kevan Coffey, a registered nurse practitioner.
Skagit Regional Health argued that while it was fine with performing abortions, it did not have any staff members who were willing to perform them. The hospital would instead refer patients seeking abortions to other clinics.
The ACLU claimed that Skagit Regional Health violated Washington’s Reproductive Privacy Act, a bill dictating that if the state provides maternity services, it must also provide abortion services. Private healthcare providers are allowed to refuse to perform abortions.
“The key distinction here is that individual providers may choose either to provide or not provide these services, but the state, acting here through the Hospital District, cannot exercise such an opt out clause. The Hospital District must comply with its responsibility under the (Reproductive Privacy Act), and the Court sees no tenable reason why it cannot,” Judge Lewis wrote.
“The right of women to choose or to refuse to have an abortion is fundamental and has long been recognized under Washington law. We brought the lawsuit to ensure that women can access the full range of reproductive health care at public health facilities in their own communities. We hope this ruling makes the promise of the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act a reality for all women across Washington state,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.
ACLU of Washington also sent out letters to Jefferson County, Mason County and Whidbey Island hospital districts, telling them to comply with the RPA. The letters tell the hospital district in question that they violate the law by offering maternity services, but not providing abortion services.