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Skagit Woman Files Abortion Access Lawsuit against Skagit Regional Health

Lawsuit-File Photo

Mount Vernon, WA:  A Lawsuit was filed in  Skagit County Superior Court on February 19th by Skagit County Resident  Kevan Coffey and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Lawsuit claims that Public Hospital District No. 1, d.b.a,  Skagit Regional Health is discriminating against woman and violating the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA)  of 1991 by not offering abortions or medications for abortions. Skagit Regional Health owns and operates Skagit Valley Hospital and Skagit Regional Clinics.  Skagit Regional Health is Washington State’s third largest Public Hospital District and the largest provider of health care services in Skagit County.  The plaintiff in the lawsuit is listed as Ms. Kevan Coffey. She is a doctoral student in nursing as well as a licensed nurse practitioner who lives in Skagit County. The lawsuit states, she is of reproductive age who is unable to carry a pregnancy to term without facing severe, life-threatening birth defects.

According to the Complaint for Injunctive and Declatory Relief filed with the Superior  court on February 19th, 2015: 

Washington State Law provides that every woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to terminate a pregnancy, and that a public hospital district may not discriminate against the exercise of that right.

RCW 9.02.100(2),(4).  If a Public hospital District provides maternity care services, it must also provide services that enable women to terminate their pregnancies.

RCW 9.02.160. Because defendants (Skagit Regional Health) provide maternity care services but do not provide abortion services, Defendants are violating State Law.  This case is ensuring a woman’s access to the full range of reproductive health services required by law.

Listed as defendants in the case are: 1. Public Hospital District 1, d.b.a. Skagit Regional health.   2.Clark Todd, Commissioner of Skagit Regional Health. 3. Balisa Koetje, Commissioner of Skagit  Regional Health. 4. James Hobbs Sr., Commissioner of Skagit Regional Health. 5. Pattie Lewis, Commissioner of Skagit Regional Health. 6. Bruce Lisser, Commissioner of Skagit Regional Health. 7. Jeffery Miller, Commissioner of Skagit Regional Health, 8. Stanton Olson, Commissioner of Skagit Regional Health. 9. Gregg Davidson, Chief Executive Officer of Skagit Regional Health.

Facts listed in Section III of the lawsuit: 

The Reporductive Privacy Act was enacted in 1991 by the people of Washington State by way of Initiative 120.  The purpose of Initiative 120 was to grant every individual in Washington a fundamental right of privacy with respect to their personal reproductive decisions, including the right to choose or refuse to terminate a pregnancy and to choose or refuse birth control. Initiative 120 additionally sought to prevent public hospital districts from denying or interfering with individuals’ exercise of such fundamental rights.

The Furtherance of the fundamental right to choose or refuse to terminate a pregnancy. Initiative 120 provided that “if the state provides, directly or by contract, maternity care benefits, services, or information to woman 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.   

Interpretations of Initiative 120 at the time of its introduction confirm that this provision means that woman must have equal access to termination services and maternity care services.

According to the Lawsuit, Skagit Regional Health provides a wide array and substantial volume of maternity care services. For example, the lawsuit lists that in 2012, Skagit Valley Hosptial performed 1,200 deliveries, or nearly three-quarters of all births in Skagit County for that year.   The lawsuit also states that Skagit Regional Health’s Family Birth Center provides wide-ranging services specifically for women, including both pre and post pregnancy care.   However, the lawsuit lists that Skagit Regional health do not provide women with substantially equivalent services to permit them to terminate their pregnancies.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiff is informed, believes and alleges that Skagit Regional Health has a practice of never performing medication abortions and of rarely ever performing surgical abortions for patients seeking or needing such care.

The plaintiff sent Skagit Regional Health two demand letters in July of 2014 and February of 2015, requesting that Skagit Regional Health provide medication abortions and surgical abortions in compliance with Washington State Law.  In response to the demand letters, Skagit Regional Health adopted Resolution No. 3339, stating that they do not prohibit or have a written policy against providing termination services to women.   The Plaintiff believes and alleges that Skagit Regional Clinics do not comply with the Reproductive Privacy Act because they do not provide substantively equivalent services to woman for terminations as it does maternity care, and she alleges that Skagit Regional Health continue to have a practice of never performing medication abortions and vary rarely providing surgical abortions.

The lawsuit demands that Skagit Regional Health comply with the RCW 9.02.100(4) RCW 9.02.160 and provide termination services. She is also seeking a monetary award of reasonable attorney fees and costs that she incurrs in connection with the lawsuit.

Initiative 120 gathered 242,004 signatures and was submitted to Washington Voters. On November 5, 1991, voters approved the initiative.   It was coded RCW 9.02, effective December 24th, 1991, as the Reporductive Privacy Act.

The ACLU has 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, and is assessing all other hospital districts in Washington State for compliance with the Reproductive Privacy Act.

 

 

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