SEATTLE (Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the state’s third-largest public hospital district, accusing it of failing to comply with an abortion rights law.
The lawsuit alleges that Skagit Regional Health, which operates a large hospital and several clinics in Skagit County about 100 miles north of Seattle, is not following the state’s 1991 Reproductive Privacy Act.
That law requires that any state medical facility that provides maternity care must also provide abortion care, and it prohibits the state from interfering with or denying a woman’s right to an abortion.
“The right of women to choose or to refuse to have an abortion is fundamental and has long been recognized under Washington law,” Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
The ACLU action accuses Skagit Regional Health of providing a wide array of maternity care services while not offering pharmaceutical abortions and rarely providing surgical abortions.
Instead, the lawsuit said Skagit Regional routinely referred women seeking abortions to off-site facilities, like Planned Parenthood, rather than performing them at its hospitals and clinics.
The medical center said it provided both pharmaceutical and surgical abortions.
It said that some doctors and nurses opted out of performing abortions under hospital policy and a provision of state law that preserves that right for individual medical professionals.
If a doctor does opt out, “the hospital will use reasonable efforts to arrange for other health care professionals to deliver the care for the patient,” a statement said.
The ACLU maintains the referral policy does not comply with the Reproductive Privacy Act to provide equal care.
The group also sent letters to three other public hospital districts in Mason County, Jefferson County, and Whidbey Island that it believes are not following the law, the statement said.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney