Public Hospital Expands Abortion Services in Settlement of ACLU Lawsuit

News Release: 
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Skagit Regional Health agrees to comply with Washington’s Reproductive Privacy Act

In a settlement agreement reached in Coffey v. Public Hospital District. No. 1, Skagit Regional Health (SRH) will expand its abortion services. The settlement represents a victory for reproductive freedom in Washington, said ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor.
In 2015 the ACLU of Washington, on behalf of Kevan Coffey, sued SRH for failing to comply with Washington’s Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA).  The RPA requires all public hospital districts that provide maternity care to provide equivalent abortion services. SRH is a public hospital that provides a wide array of maternity care services yet in 2015 was only providing abortions in limited circumstances. In June 2016 the Skagit County Superior Court found that SRH was violating the law.

“We brought the lawsuit to ensure that women can access the full range of reproductive health care at public health facilities in their own communities,” said Taylor. “This settlement makes the promise of the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act a reality for women in Skagit County and across the state.”

As part of the settlement, Skagit Regional Health will provide both medication and surgical abortions at its facilities and will incorporate training for abortion procedures into its family practice residency program. 

The lawsuit is part of a statewide effort by the ACLU-WA to ensure that all public hospitals are complying with the RPA, which was enacted by the people of Washington in 1991 by way of the statewide approval of Initiative 120. It protects the right of women to make their own reproductive decisions, including the rights to choose or refuse to terminate their pregnancies, and to choose or refuse birth control. Under the RPA, if a public hospital district chooses to provide maternity services, it must provide equivalent abortion services.

“Our goal is to see to it that all women in Washington have access to the full range of reproductive services as required by law,” said Leah Rutman, Policy Counsel for the ACLU-WA. “This settlement is an important step toward ensuring every public hospital in Washington that provides maternity care fulfills its legal obligation to provide access to abortion—medical care that is an essential part of reproductive freedom.”

As a result of ACLU-WA advocacy on the RPA, Jefferson Healthcare, the public hospital district in Jefferson County, has also expanded the abortion services it offers at its facilities. Additional public hospital districts are also in talks with the ACLU-WA regarding providing abortion services.

Handling the case for the ACLU are cooperating attorneys Kim Haviv, Aalok Sharma, Lauren Fujiu-Berger, Amara Levy-Moore, Alice Tsier, Rebecca Tarneja, and Marvin E. Bonilla of White & Case LLP; Karen Koehler of Strittmatter Kessler Whelan; and ACLU attorneys Leah Rutman and Brigitte Amiri.