Inslee directive requires Washington hospitals to provide emergency abortion care

Jun 11, 2024, 3:15 PM | Updated: 3:59 pm

Image: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a press conference about hospitals in the state providi...

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a press conference about hospitals in the state providing emergency abortion services in Seattle on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Photo: Matt Markovich, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Matt Markovich, KIRO Newsradio)

Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee issued a directive Tuesday requiring the Washington State Department of Health to ensure hospitals in the state provide emergency abortion services. The directive mandates that all hospitals offer these services, even if doctors object and no alternative provider is available.

The order fills a loophole in state statute that did not require hospitals, clinics, and the doctors who work at them to perform an “emergency abortion” should a woman need one.

“The statute unfortunately does not have exact clarity that includes abortion services, so this will clarify that the statute specifically includes abortion services,” Inslee said.

Washington legalized abortion in 1970 and has a long history of legal protections for women who want one and the doctors who perform them. State law already requires hospitals in Washington to provide essential emergency health care based on nationally recognized standards, including emergency abortion care.

When asked if the order was a solution in search of a problem, Inslee said, “There are certain hospitals that have taken provisions to reduce access to services. We think this will reduce those opportunities to deny those services.”

The Washington State Hospital Association objected, writing in response to Inslee’s order, “There is no evidence that Washington hospitals are not providing appropriate emergency care.”

“Hospitals’ commitment to emergency care includes a commitment to providing a whole host of services to which some people might apply a moral character,” WSHA CEO Cassie Sauer said in response to Inslee’s order. “We disagree with any limitations on hospital provision of emergency services.”

New study: Washington has become ‘safe haven for people seeking abortions’

Why Inslee thinks addressing Washington abortion care needs to happen now

Inslee’s directive mandates the Department of Health to issue policy guidance clarifying hospitals’ legal obligations, reaffirming that state law remains unaffected by potential Supreme Court rulings.

The executive order comes as the nation nears the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade. (A PDF of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision can be seen here.) The timing is critical, as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on Idaho v. United States and Moyle v. United States, cases that could allow politicians to criminalize emergency room doctors for performing emergency abortions.

“This is a somewhat preventive measure against the Supreme Court decision. That’s why we’re taking it today and we’re not waiting because this could be taken away at any day,” Inslee said.

More from Matt Markovich: Judge tosses lawsuit aimed at removing state’s gender-affirming care for youth

Emergency abortion care is sometimes necessary when a patient is experiencing a medical emergency. The Supreme Court ruling could challenge the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law mandating that hospitals provide necessary emergency treatment to all patients, including abortion care.

Inslee said the order ensures abortions for residents of Washington and anyone out of state who needs one when it’s a matter of life or death. He said he doesn’t expect a legal challenge if a situation arises where a doctor or hospital refuses to perform an abortion for religious reasons.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, or email him here.

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Inslee directive requires Washington hospitals to provide emergency abortion care