At Legal Voice we believe that a choice isn’t a choice if you cannot act upon it or if your decision is coerced.
That’s why in the 1990s, Legal Voice led the fight to pass the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) by a direct vote of the people. The RPA not only guarantees a pregnant person’s fundamental right to abortion, but also helps ensure access to that right by requiring state health centers that offer maternity care services to provide “substantially equivalent” abortion care services.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean that they do. Skagit Regional Health (SRH), a public hospital in Mount Vernon, Washington, refuses to provide elective abortions even though it provides a range of maternity care services. Instead, a patient seeking an elective abortion receives a firm rejection and a casual referral to the local Planned Parenthood.
Kevan Coffey, a community member and former nurse at the hospital, is holding Skagit Regional Health to task. The trial court agreed with Kevan that SRH was in violation of the law and ordered it to find a way to provide abortions—and not just by sending patients elsewhere. But the hospital district appealed, and to this day continues to deny abortion care to its patients.
As one of the primary drafters of the Reproductive Privacy Act, Legal Voice is in a unique position to speak to the history and intent of the law. So we spoke up, urging the Washington Court of Appeals to recognize that providing “information” is not interchangeable with providing “services,” as SRH claims; rather, it’s a denial of services.
In the period leading up to the RPA, there was great concern that providing funds for maternity care and not for abortion care was coercive and, therefore, that it restricted a pregnant person’s ability to freely exercise her choice of pregnancy care. And most patients—especially people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized communities in rural areas—already face barriers to accessing the health care they need, even without this added coercion.
There’s a lot riding on this case, as it’s the first time a hospital has been held accountable for violating the RPA. Please invest in our continued efforts to create—and protect—strong reproductive health laws in the Northwest by making a donation today.
Legal Voice spoke up then, we’re speaking up now, and with your support, we can keep speaking up until the promise of choice is a reality for all.
Thanks to Danielle Franco-Malone of Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt, former University of Michigan legal fellow Brittany Gregory, and Legal Voice volunteer Kim Clark for their efforts on our amicus brief.