Abortions could stop at Virginia Mason if merger is approved, reproductive rights advocates say

Hospital representatives said “certain services” would cease, but wouldn’t give specifics.

Reproductive rights advocates and the ACLU worry that access to abortion, contraceptives, end-of-life care and LGBTQ services could end at Virginia Mason hospitals and clinics if a merger between the hospital and the Catholic health care provider CHI Franciscan is approved.

Seattle-based Virginia Mason is one of the largest providers of health care in Washington, with 12 hospitals and some 250 outlets across the state.

The proposed merger was announced on July 16, as executives from both medical systems signed a memorandum of understanding to explore combining their services. CHI Franciscan operates under the Catholic Church’s Ethical Religious Directives, which prohibits its hospitals from providing abortions, contraception, gender transition surgery and physician-assisted death, Modern Healthcare reported.

If a merger is approved, a spokesperson for Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan said the combined health provider would “not cause CHI Franciscan to come out of compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives.”

“As we work toward the definitive agreement, care will remain the same at Virginia Mason,” the spokesperson states in an email. “Should we reach a definitive agreement, some services related to reproductive health and physician-assisted death would no longer be provided at Virginia Mason.”

The spokesperson would not specify which procedures they would eliminate.

CHI Franciscan and Virginia Mason have partnered with each other in recent years to provide obstetric women’s health and radiation oncology care, a press release from Virginia Mason states. The merged health system would be led by a board seated by an equal number of members from each organization.

This is concerning for reproductive health advocates, and the ACLU of Washington, which released a joint statement opposing the merger.

Religious-based health care has grown dramatically in the state over the last decade.In 2010, one-quarter of hospital beds in Washington were provided by religious or affiliated health care systems. If the proposed merger goes through, more than half of the beds in the state would be owned by religious organizations.

“Having it become a religiously-affiliated health system, and denying this access to care, is really problematic,” said Leah Rutman, the ACLU of Washington’s health care counsel.

She specifically cited Yakima County, where the only hospital is owned by Virginia Mason.

There’s examples of similar reductions in services. Modern Healthcare reported that when Swedish Health Services partnered with Providence Health – a Catholic health care system – it stopped offering abortions services.

Kirsten Harris-Talley, interim director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which advocates for reproductive freedom, said when mergers between secular and religious health care systems occur, services are typically cut.

She’s also concerned with what she called a lack of transparency about the merger, and questioned why it’s happening during a pandemic.

States like Alabama have generated national headlines recently as lawmakers attempt to restrict abortion. But even in states like Washington, with strong pro-choice legislation, if patients can’t reasonable access care, the effect is largely the same.

“A law is only as effective as someone’s ability to access (care),” Harris-Talley said.

There have been efforts to remedy this, she said, including the passage of HB 1608 during the 2020 Legislative session. The law prohibits health care providers from limiting information given to patients about their health status, treatments and the state’s death with dignity laws.

A work group is being formed to find ways to implement the law.

“I think this is absolutely the time when community and public voices need to be heard,” Rutman said.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

King County Election headquarters in Renton on Aug. 4 for the primary election. Haley Ausbun/staff photo
Inslee and Culp lead governor race; incumbent Dems ahead for Congress | Statewide results

Early results for governor, state schools chief, attorney general and more.

Democrats dominate King County legislative races | Election results

Here are the latest results for King County legislative candidates in the… Continue reading

Vote election badge. File photo
5th District results: Ramos leads House race; Anderson edging Mullett for state Senate

Early results have been reported in the 5th Legislative District races from… Continue reading

In the LaCrosse neighborhood in upper Kennydale, the process to get a 20 mph speed limit is almost complete. Haley Ausbun/Staff photo.
Renton neighborhood closing in on long-awaited 20 mph speed limit

The LaCrosse neighborhood’s request for a lower speed limit has faced delays due to COVID-19

King County Election headquarters in Renton, on primary Election Day, Aug. 4. Voters can return their ballot and register in-person at the election headquarters and other voting centers by 8 p.m. Haley Ausbun/Staff photo.
There’s still time to vote in the August primary

Turn in your ballot at any voting center by 8 p.m.

Primary election 2020: Who will emerge as Inslee’s challenger?

Voting ends Tuesday in an election without big rallies and fund-raisers and face-to-face debates

Sex ed, local control at heart of race for WA state schools chief

Incumbent Chris Reykdal faces five foes who argue he’s pushing too many state policies on school districts.

The Quendall Terminals site is fenced off and signage warns folks from approaching. But property owners and EPA want to clean it up and making it livable, shopable, enjoyable Lake Washington waterfront property. Staff photo 2019/Haley Ausbun
EPA takes big step towards Quendall Terminals cleanup

The contaminated site is one of the largest undeveloped portions of Lake Washington waterfront

file photo
Two shot near Renton KFC

One has non-life threatening injuries, the other is in critical but stable condition

Most Read