ACLU sues Washington hospital for performing too few abortions
MOUNT VERNON, WA, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- For one public hospital district in the state of Washington, funneling clients to Planned Parenthood is not enough to satisfy the expectations of the pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is suing the hospital district for failing to actually perform a sufficient number of abortions.
Skagit Regional Health stands accused by the organization of violating the state’s “Reproductive Privacy Act,” a law that bars the state from restricting abortions performed before viability or to preserve the “health of the mother,” and requires public hospitals offering maternity services to offer “substantially equivalent” access to abortion, as well.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of 29-year-old Kevan Coffey, a former hospital employee and pro-abortion activist, the ACLU claims that Skagit, which delivers more babies than any other local hospital, violates the Reproductive Privacy Act by never prescribing abortion drugs to its patients and only rarely performing surgical abortions. The lawsuit also complains that the hospital allows too many of its doctors and nurses to opt out of participating in abortions due to their religious beliefs, as the Act requires hospitals to do.
According to the ACLU, the hospital’s common practice of referring abortion-minded women to Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities rather than performing abortions on site violates the law by creating an “unacceptable barrier to abortion rights.”
In a conference call with reporters, Dr. Connie Davis, Skagit Valley’s chief medical officer, and Balisa Koetje, its chairwoman, said Skagit is in full compliance with state law and does perform some abortions. They were unapologetic, however, about their stance in favor of allowing employees to refuse to participate.
“Skagit Regional Health permits its healthcare professionals to opt-out of participating in services that violate their conscience or values,” reads the hospital’s policy. “In such circumstances, the hospital will use reasonable efforts to arrange for other healthcare professionals to deliver the care for the patient.”
Koetje said their referral policy enables them to comply with the law while allowing their staff members to obey their consciences.
“I don’t believe we feel there is a controversy,” Koetje told reporters. “Services are provided.”
But Washington ACLU executive director Kathleen Taylor says Skagit’s policies don’t go far enough to facilitate access to abortion. “The problem is that [Skagit] doesn't promise to provide abortion … and it asserts, wrongly, that it can refer instead," Taylor told the Puget Sound Business Journal, "It must have a policy that makes clear that it will provide services on site. We have spoken to doctors who would do this work for Skagit, so there is no excuse for having language in the policy that allows for referrals."
The ACLU says it became interested in Skagit’s policies after the public hospital district met with Catholic hospital group PeaceHealth to discuss a possible merger.
"Not only can [abortion] services be lost when an affiliation happens with a Catholic health system, but when we investigated that proposed affiliation, we found that even at some of these public hospitals, they already don't provide these services," ACLU policy counsel Leah Rutman told the Business Journal.
But Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospital Association, told the Business Journal that the only way for hospitals to obey the law’s abortion requirements while respecting the religious beliefs of their employees is to offer referrals to outside abortionists – or stop delivering babies altogether.
"The law says we can't require employees to violate their conscience to perform an abortion," Clunies-Ross said. "If the law was interpreted the way ACLU says, the only way out of that conundrum for them is to not do maternity services."