Published:Tuesday, September 24, 2019
A new law in Washington requires hospitals to clearly tell the public which reproductive health services they offer.
State lawmakers this year passed 2SSB 5602, which requires the Department of Health to create a simple form of reproductive health care services for hospitals to fill out, post on their website, and submit to a Department of Health webpage. It includes reproductive health services related to abortion, contraception, pregnancy, infertility, STDS and HIV.
This checklist is necessary because many health care systems in Washington state prohibit or limit the provision of reproductive health care services, such as abortion and contraception. Indeed, the ACLU-WA has found that there are even public hospital districts in our state that restrict or limit access to abortion.
Further, almost 50% of hospital beds in Washington are in religious or religiously affiliated health systems, resulting in limitations on access to reproductive health care. Catholic health systems are required to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services which prohibit or severely restrict many reproductive health care services.
In 2014, spurred by a letter from the ACLU-WA and allies, the Governor directed the Department of Health (DOH) to initiate rulemaking. This rulemaking resulted in a new rule that required hospitals to post on their website and submit to DOH policies related to reproductive health, end of life, non-discrimination, and admissions.
Unfortunately, many of the reproductive health policies that hospitals submitted were vague, incomplete, or extremely limited. Rather than having clear information on the services available at a hospital, health care consumers were being forced to “read between the lines” of insufficient policies and were still unable to determine where they could access the care they needed.
In response, the ACLU and allies continued our advocacy efforts, calling on hospitals to fill out a checklist of services that would simply allow patients to know where they could find the health care they needed.
Hospitals in Washington state are now required to fill out this form. This an important step towards patients accessing care. It should provide increased transparency, providing health care consumers with a better understanding of where they can access the reproductive health services they need.
However, there is still more work to be done. The checklist may not help people in rural locations with limited choices in where they can access care, for example, nor will it help people in emergency situations.
Further, hospitals’ policies regarding end-of-life services, such as death with dignity, continue to be vague, and this reproductive health checklist, will not solve that problem.
The ACLU and its allies will continue to advocate not only for transparency, but for patients to be able to obtain medically accurate and comprehensive information, and health services consistent with medical standards of care. Health care entities’ restrictions, including discriminatory restrictions based in religious doctrine, should not hinder patient access to care.