Governor Signs Bill to Protect Pregnant Patients in Washington

News Release: 
Monday, May 10, 2021

OLYMPIA — A bill signed today by Gov. Jay Inslee ensures that patients experiencing harmful pregnancy complications will receive the care they need when they need it.

The Protecting Pregnant Patients Act (SSB 5140) prevents hospitals from interfering with a qualified health care practitioner’s ability to provide medically necessary care to a pregnant patient whose health or life is at risk.

For decades, patients in Washington state experiencing miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies have had their treatment delayed or denied due to hospital policies that are not grounded in evidence-based medicine. These policies, which prohibit pregnancy terminations except in very limited circumstances, are discriminatory, create unjust barriers to care, serve no medical purpose, and endanger the health and lives of pregnant patients. For patients, especially those living in rural areas with only one health care facility available to them, these prohibitions can be insurmountable and life-threatening. 

“This law provides long-overdue assurance to pregnant patients that they will receive the care they need regardless of where they seek treatment,” said Leah Rutman, Health Care and Liberty Counsel at the ACLU of Washington. “We’re grateful that Washington’s lawmakers and Gov. Inslee have acted to protect pregnant patients and the providers who care for them.”

A broad coalition of reproductive health and rights organizations worked to pass this critical legislation, including the ACLU of Washington, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of WA State, Cedar River Clinics, Legal Voice, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates and Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.

Members of the coalition would like to express their deep gratitude to SSB 5140’s prime sponsor Sen. Patty Kuderer and other lawmakers for their leadership and support, including Sen. Annette Cleveland, Rep. Nicole Macri and Rep. Eileen Cody.

During hearing testimony and comments on the Senate and House floor, patients and lawmakers recalled their own painful experiences with miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and emphasized how thankful they were to have received medically necessary care during one of the most difficult moments of their lives. 

“No person suffering from pregnancy complications should ever have to be subject to additional emotional trauma because they’re unsure if they are going to get appropriate medical care,” said Sen. Kuderer. “And no health care provider should ever have to be put in the position of choosing between their job and treating their patient. This stops that once and for all and makes hospitals treat pregnancy complications with the importance and necessity they deserve.”

The bill also protects providers from being fired or reprimanded for treating pregnant patients according to medical standards of care.

“Doctors, nurses and other care providers will be able to act in their patients’ best interest without fear of losing their jobs for using their medical judgment,” said Dr. Sarah Prager, from the Washington state chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

SSB 5140 allows aggrieved patients and providers to sue a hospital for failure to comply with the law. “This provision is the teeth of the bill,” said Kim Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Reproductive Rights, Health and Justice at Legal Voice. “Hospitals and health care systems will face consequences if they put pregnant patients at risk for no medical reason.”

“Pregnant patients can feel confident that discriminatory health policies will no longer prevent them from receiving timely, evidence-based care if they experience dangerous complications,” said Lillian Lanier, Organizing and Political Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

While SSB 5140 is an important and necessary victory for pregnant patients, all Washingtonians deserve to receive needed care. Unfortunately, a growing number of health care system mergers in the state means that many patients will continue to face barriers to access. Advocates look forward to continuing to support legislation that guarantees access to care for all patients.

“This is a moment to celebrate an expansion of access to health care for pregnant patients,” said Courtney Normand, Washington State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “But there’s more work to do to guarantee that all patients in Washington receive the care they need.”

For more information about the delays and denials of care patients have experienced around the state due to hospital policies, see A Right to Care, a new report from the ACLU of Washington.