Even in liberal Western Australia, the Catholic Church has too much influence over access to abortion
With the end of Roe on so many minds, it might surprise those of us in liberal Seattle how much abortion access in our state is under the control of the Catholic Church.
As Leah Rutman, policy adviser at the ACLU of Washington, has said, “Having the right to an abortion doesn’t mean you have access to it.”
Washington is just one of handle states in which more than 40% of hospital beds are governed by Catholic doctrine. This shift was accentuated with the 2021 merger of Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan, creating Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, which operates 11 hospitals and 300 care sites. With this merger, Virginia Mason declared that she “would not become Catholic”, according to information from the News Tribune, but that she would also be. no longer offer “elective” abortions or participate in the process of dying with dignity of the state.
The site of the new entity read now“It is the policy of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health that all services rendered at our facilities must support life. At no time may actions intended to end life be performed or authorized.”
This latest merger came nearly a decade after the centuries-old Swedish merged with Catholic Providence in 2013 and stopped providing most abortion care. Under pressure from reproductive health advocates in 2011, when the merger was being considered, Swedish partnered with Planned Parenthood to underwrite a clinic offering abortion care near the hospital.
A spokesperson for Providence Swedish Puget Sound said in an email: “Elective abortions are not performed in Swedish facilities. However, the Swede does not deny emergency care. When a pregnant patient’s life is in danger, Swedish clinicians provide all necessary medical interventions, including pregnancy terminations, to protect and save the patient’s life.
The spokesperson also said that if Swedish provided health care prohibited by the Catholic Church Ethical and Religious Guidelines for Catholic Health Services – such as birth control for the prevention of pregnancy, tubal ligations for sterilization purposes, and in vitro fertilization to treat infertility – Providence does not. You can consult the services offered by hospitals at the Ministry of Health public database.
The emergency care offer aligns with 2021 Pregnancy Protection Actwhich Governor Jay Inslee signed to allow physicians practicing in Catholic hospitals to provide abortion care when a patient’s life is in danger.
Access to abortion care is dramatically unequal in Washington, with large swaths of the state — especially rural and eastern counties — lacking any abortion clinics.
Abortion is already illegal or heavily regulated in 11 states, with 12 more ready to do the same.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that with Roe’s overthrow, Washington will see a 385% increase in the number of people traveling here for abortion care, largely expected from Idaho and Montana to the east.
With Catholic-controlled hospital systems representing a growing share of our health care providers, the small number of clinics providing care in the eastern part of the state, for example, could be inundated with patients from the out of state.
The ACLU’s Rutman said these types of hospital mergers have an effect on patient care. When these consolidations took place, she said, “We saw statewide decreases in reproductive health care, end-of-life care, access to gender-affirming care.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Despite strong rhetoric for abortion rights from elected Democratic leaders, Rutman said, California and Oregon have done a much better job of ensuring these mergers don’t hurt access. from patients to reproductive health care, providing a much more robust monitoring system.
Rutman cited an example of a merger that affected both Washington and California, saying, “You can see where California not only reviewed all the material, held statewide town hall meetings, comment periods to get feedback from individuals and ultimately approved the merger with caveats. about maintaining reproductive health care… And in Washington State, none of that happened. So that really demonstrates the significant need to ensure that we have more oversight here.
During the last legislative session, the Keep our care law was introduced, which would have required health systems to show how a merger would impact, among other things, “reproductive, gender-affirming, emergency and end-of-life care”. The state attorney general would have had to determine through a public process whether the transaction would harm access and affordability of care. It has stalled, but could be reintroduced next year.
With so much fear and uncertainty surrounding abortion care, it is somewhat comforting to live in a state that protects a pregnant person’s right to choose, but that only matters if she has the ability to exercise that choice. Washington still has a long way to go to stand up to religious doctrines and fulfill this promise for everyone.