Little impact locally from AG opinion on maternity and abortion

On Wednesday state Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued his opinion about whether hospitals in public hospital districts are obligated to provide reproductive services (contraception and abortion) if they are offering maternity care, even if they are operated by faith-based organizations.

The short version of his answer is “Yes.” This appears to have no impact in Kitsap County, because there are no public hospital districts here. It will have an impact in Mason County.

There are two public hospital districts in Mason County, in fact, and Harrison Medical Center is contracted by Mason County PHD #2 to provide a clinic and primary care services in Belfair, but not maternity care.

So there was a question of whether a hospital that is in a PHD anywhere is obligated to provide abortion services everywhere it offers maternity care, even if it is outside the PHD.

“Our reading of his opinion is that it’s just for public hospital districts that offer maternity care benefits,” said Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, Washington State Hospital Association spokeswoman. An ACLU spokesman agreed. So Harrison, which is in the midst of merging with Franciscan Health System, doesn’t even need to consider how to comply with the AG’s opinion.

Mason County PHD #1, which covers essentially everything in Mason County except Belfair, is another story.

Scott Hilburn, Mason County PHD #1 board president, said Mason General Hospital, which does offer maternity care, has never performed a scheduled abortion. The hospital has done them in emergencies, such as when the life of the mother was at risk.

Ferguson cited state law, RCW 9.02.160, which reads:

“If the state (defined elsewhere in the law as “municipal corporations.” A PHD is one of those.) provides, directly or by contract, maternity care benefits, services, or information to women through any program administered or funded in whole or in part by the state, the state shall also provide women otherwise eligible for any such program with substantially equivalent benefits, services, or information to permit them to voluntarily terminate their pregnancies.”

Hilburn said hospital officials will be meeting with its attorney and WSHA officials. “We’re going to go ahead and comply with the law to the best of our abilities,” he said.

You can read the AG’s opinion here.

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