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Victory for Pro-Choice Washington
by Zeyla P. Rose

Swedish Hospital will continue to provide abortion services for women, thanks to Pro-choice Washington, a coalition of not-for-profit groups concerned about abortion rights.

"For women needing these services, there won't be any interruption," said Pam Crone of Northwest Women's Law Center, part of the coalition.

Swedish, a secular hospital that has for years provided women with safe abortions, is in the process of merging with Providence, a Catholic hospital, and acquiring several of its medical centers. Providence made demands during negotiations that Swedish stop performing so-called "elective" abortions. Providence did not object to Swedish's other "anti-Catholic" services, such as providing contraception and the "morning after" pill, or offering abortions for women in cases of medical necessity.

Local newspapers reported in March that Swedish would accommodate Providence's anti-choice stance by sacrificing services for "elective" abortions--a dubious category since it should always be up to the woman, not the doctor, to decide if an abortion is necessary.

Losing Swedish as an option for those seeking abortions would have been devastating--not only because access to abortion is becoming scarcer throughout the region, but also because most hospitals no longer offer these services, in fear of anti-choice violence. Since Swedish is Washington state's largest hospital, the change would have been particularly harmful. Hospital settings are necessary for many women and girls who have health conditions that indicate a potential for complications during an abortion procedure.

Fortunately, Pro-Choice Washington quickly went into action after learning of Swedish's plans.

Pro-Choice Washington had already successfully led the defeat of I-694, the 1998 initiative to ban late term abortions. This action was to be much quieter. Coalition members met with Richard Peterson, the CEO of Swedish, and Nancy Auer, the hospital's medical director, to explain their concerns. They ended up with an agreement in which Swedish would operate a "virtual" and separate company within the hospital, so that the revenue from abortion services would be kept apart from the rest of the hospital's revenue. The medical service itself would be unchanged.

As part of the merger agreement, Providence will get a portion of Swedish's profits if Swedish brings in a certain percentage above breaking even. By keeping separate books, Providence will not receive revenue from abortions performed.

Chris Charbonneau of Planned Parenthood, which is also part of the coalition, said Pro-Choice Washington's discussions with Swedish were not difficult. "It was clear that everyone wanted women's reproductive health care services to be offered. We never met with any resistance on that. It was really just a question of how to get it done."

Charbonneau said that the discussions also had an unexpected pay-off. During their meetings, it emerged that one of Swedish's health plans was failing to cover contraception. The plan will now provide that coverage.

Another favorable fallout from Swedish's acquisition of Providence is that employees of the Providence hospitals and clinics that will be taken over by Swedish will now receive coverage for contraception in their health plans. The health centers that will be affected are Providence Seattle Medical Center, Providence's Jefferson Medical Tower, and the nine Providence clinics throughout King County.

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