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Judge: Public hospitals must perform abortions in Washington state

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

MOUNT VERNON, Washington, June 27, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A Washington judge has decreed that all state hospitals must perform abortions.

Skagit County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis ruled last week that publicly funded hospitals offering maternity care also are required to provide abortions.

Montoya-Lewis' ruling was handed down after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against Skagit Regional Health and Skagit Valley Hospital, Washington’s third-largest medical center. Hospital staff had been referring women who wanted an abortion to Planned Parenthood.

“Once again we see that the proponents of abortion are not content to have the right to kill unborn babies, but want to force others to help them do so," Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot told LifeSiteNews.  "It’s tragic that state-owned medical facilities in Washington who want to bring life into the world must now agree to destroy that life.

"This is not only unethical, but has serious legal implications."

The ACLU sued over the state's Reproductive Privacy Act of 1991, which requires public hospitals that give maternity care to also offer "substantially equivalent" abortion services. The lawsuit also accuses Skagit Valley Hospital of creating an "unacceptable barrier to abortion rights" by allowing too many of its doctors to opt out of doing abortions for religious convictions. Skagit Valley Hospital has no abortionists on staff.

Montoya-Lewis decided that "individual providers may choose either to provide or not provide" abortions, but the hospital "must comply with its responsibility under" the state's Reproductive Privacy Act.  Public hospitals, she ruled, are an arm of the state and must provide abortions to meet state law.

"We continue to witness conflict between our constitutional rights and an aggressive pro-abortion judiciary," Human Life of Washington CEO Dan Kennedy told LifeSiteNews.  "This judge's use of a novel theory to aid the abortion empire is clearly discriminatory.

"When justice becomes a moving target, there is no justice and no constitutional rights."

Washington state ACLU executive director Kathleen Taylor explained, “We brought the lawsuit to ensure that all women in our state can access the full range of reproductive health care at public health facilities."

Dr. Connie Davis, Skagit Valley Hospital chief medical officer, defended the hospital, saying they perform some abortions and it is important for the hospital to respect employees' consciences.

"Skagit Regional Health permits its healthcare professionals to opt-out of participating in services that violate their conscience or values,” Skagit chairwoman Balisa Koetje said. “In such circumstances, the hospital will use reasonable efforts to arrange for other healthcare professionals to deliver the care for the patient."

Skagit Valley Hospital attorney Tom Ahearne said its board has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling. He explained that officials are concerned that if they make performing abortions a job requirement, they may be in violation of non-discrimination laws. "They still feel stuck between a rock and a hard place," Ahearne said.

Theriot affirmed the "serious legal implications" of Skagit's situation.

"If hospitals must provide abortions, they may find themselves in the position of forcing doctors to perform them if none of their staff want to participate in the barbaric practice,” he said. “But state and federal laws like Title VII and the Coats-Snowe Amendment protect medical professionals from being forced to participate in abortion. This ruling places these hospitals in a difficult legal position.”

The ACLU admitted it investigated Skagit after the hospital discussed a possible merger with PeaceHealth, a Catholic hospital group.

The ACLU also wrote to hospitals in Jefferson County, Mason County and on Whidbey Island, threatening to sue if they do not perform abortions.

“We’ll make sure hospital districts around the state are aware of the ruling and of the need for all of them to comply with the law," ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said.

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