ACLU of Washington Report Reveals Hospital Policies Deny and Delay Care for Patients Experiencing Miscarriages and Ectopic Pregnancies; Legislation to Protect Pregnant Patients Voted Out of State Senate Committee Today

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
February 1, 2021 7:45 pm

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SEATTLE – A new report from the ACLU of Washington captures the potentially deadly risks faced by pregnant patients at hospitals around the state where institutional policies restrict access to medically necessary care.

A Right to Care” includes the stories of patients experiencing miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies whose treatment was delayed or denied due to hospital policies rather than medical judgment. These policies, which prohibit pregnancy terminations except in very limited circumstances, are discriminatory, serve no medical purpose, and place the health and lives of pregnant patients at risk. The restrictions disproportionately harm women, particularly those who live in rural communities where access can be limited to a single facility, and patients with limited economic resources who may have difficulty paying for additional travel and medical expenses.

For some of the pregnant patients featured in the report, these barriers to care led to dangerous and life-threatening conditions, including internal bleeding and infections that could have been prevented. Others avoided serious complications and now want to make sure no other pregnant patient is forced to endure the same agonizing scramble to obtain critical care.

That is why patients, providers and advocates are supporting SSB 5140, which was voted out of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee today. This bill would prevent hospitals from interfering with a qualified health care practitioner’s ability to provide care to a patient who is miscarrying or experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, and whose health or life is at risk. SSB 5140, introduced by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, protects patients by ensuring they receive the best care possible when they go to the hospital.

Many of the experiences shared in this report occurred after the Legislature first began considering similar protections for pregnant women several years ago, said Leah Rutman, Health Care and Liberty Counsel at ACLU-WA.

“The legislature failed to act in past years,” said Rutman. “We cannot wait any longer to pass a bill that protects pregnant patients.”

“Hospitals must trust doctors to use their medical judgment when caring for pregnant patients,” said Dr. Sarah Prager, from the Washington state chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “SSB 5140 ensures that doctors, nurses, and other care providers can act in their patients’ best interests.”

At a hearing on Jan. 20 for SSB 5140, people who have experienced miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies offered powerful testimony. Their stories highlight the urgent need to pass legislation that ensures pregnant patients receive the care they need regardless of where they live or seek medical treatment.

“Hospital policies that have no basis in medical necessity should not stand in the way of timely, evidence-based care for patients experiencing pregnancy complications,” said Lillian Lanier, organizing and political director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. “Patient safety must be prioritized.”

“Now more than ever we need more access to health care — including reproductive health care — not less,” said Courtney Normand, Washington State Director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai‘i. “We are seeing a growing trend where hospitals delay or deny care to patients experiencing pregnancy complications, even when the patient’s life may be at risk. This means that patients may not receive appropriate care for their pregnancies because of hospital policy. These restrictions place extra barriers to care that needlessly and disproportionately harm women, communities of color, rural residents, and patients with limited economic resources. We urge Washington lawmakers to fight for access to health care, including reproductive health care and stop this injustice.”

“Hospital policies that serve no medical purpose should not be allowed to dictate and restrict critical care for pregnant patients,” said Kim Clark, senior staff attorney for Reproductive Rights, Health and Justice at Legal Voice. “SSB 5140 would protect pregnant patients from these discriminatory policies.”

ACLU of Washington
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of WA state
Cedar River Clinics
Community Health Care
If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice
Legal Voice
NARAL Pro-Choice Washington
Northwest Abortion Access Fund
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai’i
Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho

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