A recent Washington Attorney General Opinion concludes that a public hospital district may not administer or fund programs to provide maternity care benefits or services without making provision for abortion services, benefits, and information. The Opinion primarily relies on RCW 9.02.100 and RCW 9.02.160 which respectively provide in part:
The sovereign people hereby declare that every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions.
Accordingly, it is the public policy of the state of Washington that:
(1) Every individual has a fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control;
(2) Every woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion (subject to legislative limitations)
If the state 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.
The Opinion emphasizes that no Washington public hospital district is required to provide maternity care benefits, services, or information. However, it endorses a broad interpretation of these benefits to include a large range of prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum services and information. It also concludes that a public hospital district provides maternity care benefits if it financially subsidizes a healthcare provider that provides these benefits.
Accordingly, the Opinion concludes that if a public hospital district contracts for the provision of maternity care benefits and subsidizes this through the use of public funds it must provide the substantially equivalent benefits, services and information required by RCW 9.02.160. The Opinion expresses no opinion on how public hospital districts might comply with these requirements or what might constitute substantially equivalent benefits, services and information.
For more information about this Opinion or hospital compliance requirements please contact Greg Montgomery.