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

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.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Screenshot
King County weather: Dec. 3-5

Here is your King County area weather forecast for Dec. 3-5, 2021.… Continue reading

Keith Wagoner
Senator becomes first GOP candidate for secretary of state

Sen. Keith Wagoner will challenge Democrat Steve Hobbs, who was appointed to the statewide post in November

A pedestrian walks along Snoqualmie Parkway in October 2019. File photo
Snoqualmie City Council outlines priorities for state legislators in 2022

The Snoqualmie City Council has listed funding for the Snoqualmie Parkway and… Continue reading

T
U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier visits North Bend to promote infrastructure bill

U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier visited North Bend on Nov. 29 as part… Continue reading

Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge & Spa. File photo
Snoqualmie Tribe concerned with unregulated air traffic at Snoqualmie Falls

Tribe urges federal regulators to introduce flight restrictions over sacred site.

The Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center is located at 31510 Pete von Reichbauer Way S. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror
FEMA to send mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit to Western Washington

The mobile site is set to open Dec. 20 in Federal Way; additional locations to come.

Aftermath of crash at intersection of NE Woodinville Duvall Road and West Snoqualmie Valley Road (Screenshot from King County Sheriff's Office Facebook account)
Teen walks away from horrible crash in rural East King County

First responders found the overturned and crushed vehicle abandoned near Duvall.

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Washington health officials discuss response to new COVID variant

Things will be handled with Omicron variant similar to the Delta variant.

File photo
As new COVID-19 variant looms, vaccination disparities linger in King County

County data shows gaps among age, geography and race.

Most Read