Did Washington state AG demand Catholic hospitals perform abortions?

posted at 2:31 pm on August 22, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The Attorney General for the state of Washington issued a legal opinion yesterday on the duty of “public health districts” to provide abortion and contraception services if they also provide obstetric services — and that may have implications for religious-affiliated providers in the state.  But does this order mean that Catholic hospitals and other such providers have to perform abortions?  Not quite, although the order impacts their ability to network:

Any public health district in Washington that provides maternity care must continue to offer “substantially equivalent benefits” in the form of contraception and abortion services, even if it contracts with a religious-affiliated medical organization, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an opinion Wednesday.

“I fully expect all public hospital districts to comply with this opinion,” Ferguson told a Seattle news conference.

The opinion impacts a growing trend in Washington, in which small local hospitals have chosen to affiliate with larger health organizations, including Catholic-affiliated PeaceHealth and Providence Health and Services.

Under a directive by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, church-affiliated hospitals cannot perform abortions, are restricted in contraceptive services and cannot assist in patient suicides.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, asked the AG if a public hospital district would violate the state’s Initiative 120 if it solely contracts with a health care provider — such as a Catholic-affiliated hospital — that does not provide reproductive care services such as contraception and abortion.

Under the terms of I-120, adopted by voters in 1991, a public hospital district “may not provide maternity care without abortion and birth control . . . There are more than 50 public hospitals in Washington and this affects all of them,” Ferguson said.  The initiative did not impose the requirement on private hospitals.

Steven Ertelt writes at LifeNews that this will force Catholic hospitals to comply:

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an opinion yesterday saying that every hospital in the state — including religiously-run hospitals like Catholic hospitals — must provide abortions.

I’m not sure that’s exactly what this means.  The order refers to public hospitals, not private, and to the options that public health districts are required to support.  Catholic hospitals are private, quite obviously, although they contract with public entities to provide services, the most obvious being Medicare.

This opinion binds the districts from contracting certain operators for their facilities more than the facilities themselves. The public-health districts in Washington have been moving toward contracting with private entities rather than running them on their own. Ferguson’s opinion reads more to the point that these districts cannot avoid the responsibility to provide abortion and contraception services by seeking out only private contractors to run public facilities.

The Seattle P-I gives a little more context to Ferguson’s move:

The county has three taxpayer-supported hospitals in the process of affiliation (or absorption) by larger medical organizations.

Last November, United General Hospital of Sedro-Woolley agreed to an “alliance” with Peace Health-St. Joseph Medical Center, under which PeaceHealth will lease and operate the Sedro-Woolley hospital.

Two other hospitals, Island Hospital in Anacortes and Skagit Regional Health in Mount Vernon, have been considering similar affiliations.  The Catholic-affiliated PeaceHealth and Providence Health Services have been in the bidding, along with the secular University of Washington medical system and Virginia Mason.

The press conference and the new legal opinion are intended to warn the districts about contracting with PeaceHealth and other Catholic-affiliated private providers, and perhaps PeaceHealth, too.  The testing point will be the Sedro-Woolley facility, where PeaceHealth has already entered into a contract to operate the hospital.  If taken to court to force PeaceHealth to perform abortions, it will be an interesting fight, as the courts will be taking up the question of religious liberty in other contexts next year.  But even if courts rule against PeaceHealth and other Catholic firms operating public facilities, the end result will be the withdrawal of those organizations from operating public facilities, and not the start of abortions at private Catholic facilities.

Update: Steven has rewritten the first paragraph at LifeNews to clarify that he means public (taxpayer-funded) hospitals run by Catholic agencies.

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What’s the problem -
all the Planned Parenthood facilities booked up ?

FlaMurph on August 22, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Any public health district in Washington that provides maternity care must continue to offer “substantially equivalent benefits” in the form of contraception and abortion services

Fine. Catholic hospitals can give referrals to places that provide contraception and abortions. And that should be the end of it.

Notice, though, that if a hospital provides maternity care it’s also required to do the exact opposite of maternity: killing the unborn baby. One form of care is now co-equal with its opposite? Only a liberal can think like this.

It’s almost the same as the SPLC going to court to stop Alabama from giving families more room to send their children to better schools because not ALL families can avail themselves of this new option.

Liberals like to think they can get more of what they want with rules and laws like this. But what will happen when the assailed institutions cut back in retaliation, with a result of less of everything for everyone?

We need a serious non-violent backlash in this country against these micro-managing statist nitwits who think they know what’s best for everyone.

Liam on August 22, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Murdering babies is the priority for the Washington attorney general.

njrob on August 22, 2013 at 2:47 PM

“Baaiibies are detrimentaal to the environmeeent” — AlGore

Schadenfreude on August 22, 2013 at 2:49 PM

Liberals can’t kill babies fast enough.

tyketto on August 22, 2013 at 2:50 PM

So apparently “choice” only goes so far…

changer1701 on August 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM

So apparently “choice” only goes so far…

changer1701 on August 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Liberals are always for choice. In everything, you can do it your way and be punished, or you can do it their way and avoid their wrath.

Liam on August 22, 2013 at 2:56 PM

Any public health district in Washington that provides maternity care must continue to offer “substantially equivalent benefits” in the form of contraception and abortion services

There is no equivalency between murdering babies and maternity care.

kcewa on August 22, 2013 at 2:57 PM

Is there really anything surprising here?

Bmore on August 22, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Life for me, not for thee.

Bmore on August 22, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Democrats are into compulsory murder it seems.

Murphy9 on August 22, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Liberals can’t kill babies fast enough.

tyketto on August 22, 2013 at 2:50 PM

…Even though they make a fortune doing it.

slickwillie2001 on August 22, 2013 at 3:07 PM

Democrats are into compulsory murder it seems.

Murphy9 on August 22, 2013 at 3:04 PM

By using third parties to facilitate it against their will. How many action movies are out there where criminals hold a man’s family hostage to force him to commit a crime for them?

What would happen if all the doctors at a Catholic hospital refuse to perform abortions? Will the hospital then be required to hire one who will, under threat of heavy fines or other penalty?

Liam on August 22, 2013 at 3:09 PM

What is it with socialism and killing people?

Akzed on August 22, 2013 at 3:11 PM

The Attorney General for the state of Washington issued a legal opinion yesterday on the duty of “public health districts”
=============================================================

Smacks of Third Reich speaky,

as,”Death Zones”,…er “Public Legal Health Murder Areas”!
(sarc)

canopfor on August 22, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Washington has long been a left-leaning state.

bw222 on August 22, 2013 at 3:17 PM

Just another attempt at forcing Christians from the public square, and keeping them in their churches. I think its time that Conservatives start making the case for religious liberty.

Iblis on August 22, 2013 at 3:27 PM

If I’m reading this right, the Catholic hospitals could be driven into isolation and forced to compete against large conglomerates that can significantly drive the regulations toward their advantage. Effectively, they’ll be starved out of business. How does that saying go, what can’t go on forever won’t? It’s only a matter of time.

pt on August 22, 2013 at 3:32 PM

I honestly don’t get it with these guys. It seems to me that all they think about every waking minute is killing babies or how to kill more of them. How long to let them grow before you can’t kill them anymore, how to get someone else to pay for killing them, how to treat a baby as anything but a baby so the mother doesn’t have to feel guilty about killing her baby, etc. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that tons of Liberals care nothing about killing innocent babies.

The left truly is the cult of death.

Johnnyreb on August 22, 2013 at 3:33 PM

Washington has long been a left-leaning state.

bw222 on August 22, 2013 at 3:17 PM

Understatement of the year. Love living here, but it can be seriously depressing at times.

Funny part is, the Eastern side of the state across the mountains is big on Ron Paul. But there’s waaaay too many people in the I5 corridor from Seattle to Tacoma.

It’s a weird state.

WitchDoctor on August 22, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Fine. Catholic hospitals can give referrals to places that provide contraception and abortions. And that should be the end of it.

Liam on August 22, 2013 at 2:45 PM

I understand what you’re saying, but understand that a Catholic hospital cannot even refer a patient to a provider that performs abortion. All they could do would be to politely inform them they don’t perform abortions and that they would have to look elsewhere. Even assisting the patient in locating an abortion provider would be contrary to Catholic belief.

Shump on August 22, 2013 at 4:02 PM

C’mon, Catholics. For once, just openly tell them to go pound sand.

Please.

Cleombrotus on August 22, 2013 at 4:09 PM

But even if courts rule against PeaceHealth and other Catholic firms operating public facilities, the end result will be the withdrawal of those organizations from operating public facilities, and not the start of abortions at private Catholic facilities.

Pro-death folks will be happy with that, either way. Maybe happiest if they can simply drive Catholics out of the marketplace altogether; can’t have Catholics out their influencing people away from the pro-abort death cult, you know.

Midas on August 22, 2013 at 4:21 PM

And why are these “public facilities” contracting themselves to Catholic networks?
Because they’re broke, and the affiliation with PeaceHealth/etc., is better than the closing of the facility and not being able to offer any care at all.
Politicians should take note of the financial consequences that result from the laws they pass – though they never seem to let reality get in the way of the narrative.

Another Drew on August 22, 2013 at 4:52 PM

Pro-death folks will be happy with that, either way. Maybe happiest if they can simply drive Catholics out of the marketplace altogether; can’t have Catholics out their influencing people away from the pro-abort death cult, you know.

Midas

I think you are correct in your observation and was going to make the same point until I saw yours.

All along I’ve maintained that the “state” (state and federal) have intended all along to drive private organizations out of the healthcare market and then take over the hospitals and run them “right”.

I just think this is another way to force single payor, government provided healthcare down our throats forever and ever.

Sadly, neither the Conservatives nor the Republicans show any backbone in resisting this initiative; we are truly doomed.

E9RET on August 22, 2013 at 5:11 PM

If I’m reading this right, the Catholic hospitals could be driven into isolation and forced to compete against large conglomerates that can significantly drive the regulations toward their advantage. Effectively, they’ll be starved out of business. How does that saying go, what can’t go on forever won’t? It’s only a matter of time.

pt on August 22, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Actually, one of the biggest hospital chains is the Franciscan System. They have been gobbling up surrounding competitors for awhile now and they may well be about 45% all by themselves.

They have repeatedly stated that under no circumstances will they do abortions or contraceptive services because they violate Catholic doctrine.

This fluff piece by AG Bob Whatshisname means nothing to them. Guess who provides a vast majority of Medicaid services in WA? Only an idiot would want to P.O. the Franciscan system.

platypus on August 22, 2013 at 8:03 PM

Did Washington state AG demand Catholic hospitals perform abortions?

If by, “Not quite,” you mean, “Not entirely,” then I agree. If you mean, “Not at all,” then you really, really need to take the blinders off. Yes, they’re trying to pressure Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or else give up those contracts to provide public health. Just because they can’t directly force them to do anything doesn’t mean they deserve credit for not trying to directly force them.

And seriously, what kind of twisted sense of values declares that abortion and contraceptives are of equal importance to delivering healthy children? Especially abortion, the murder of unwanted babies before they can be born and have a chance at being adopted?

The very fact that it’s a law in Washington state is a condemnation of the entire state.

There Goes the Neighborhood on August 22, 2013 at 8:53 PM

It all comes down to the meaning of “public health district

That, to me, means that any private hospital is not required to do anything it does not want to do.

Now, if the state chooses not to contract with said hospitals, or the hospitals choose to terminate their contracts with the state, that seems to work under what I just read.

So, let the state shoot itself in the foot by requiring its patients to go very long distances for services…

unclesmrgol on August 22, 2013 at 9:29 PM

Fine. Catholic hospitals can give referrals to places that provide contraception and abortions. And that should be the end of it.

Liam on August 22, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Giving referrals is constructive participation, in the eyes of us Catholics. It’s a none-starter.

unclesmrgol on August 22, 2013 at 9:31 PM

Obamacare mandates hospitals must give out free contraceptives – to include medical facilities run by religious institutions…The Catholic church pushed back declaring a mandate that conflicts with their religious faith is UN-Constitutional. This issue flamed up quickly, causing Liberals to come up with the bogus “The GOP wants to deny women the right to use contraceptives as part of the ‘War on Women’” BS!

Not only can Obama NOT mandate those medical institutions perform abortions but he can also NOT mandate they give out free contraceptives.

While the Obama administration and the Washington politicians have manipulated Americans into debating the minute details (not that Obama’s Constitutional violations are any small matter) Americans are missing THE main issue / fact regarding Obamacare — It was never EVER designed to succeed but was and IS instead DESIGNED not only to FAIL but to be the tool that collapses the US health care system and results into a single-payer system that further strips more and more personal control and choice from Americans and places it into an ever-growing, tyrannically increasing government.

easyt65 on August 22, 2013 at 9:46 PM

Hmmm..the way I read his (the Judges) opinion, is that he is TRYING to force private, Catholic hospitals to provide these kind of contraceptive/abortion services, by making their lower level run public district hospitals provide such. I think the real consequences, however, will be these private institutions rightfully pulling out from any and all hospitals that are publicly run by them and leaving them to once again fend for their own against the private competition. So, what will the REAL consequences of his actions be? In my opinion, more and more public level district hospitals will now start finding themselves WITHOUT backers as the Catholic run private hospitals pull out of their contracts with them. Which in turn will leave these public district hospitals without the necessary teams or funding to continue to run…which will in actuality cause more of them to shut down, providing LESS services (including abortion services) to the public. This guy just shot Washington hospitals in the foot with this “decision”.

Highlar on August 23, 2013 at 10:16 AM