ACLU Urges WSU Not to Allow Religious Doctrine to Restrict Health Care and Education

News Release: 
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The ACLU of Washington today urged Washington State University’s Board of Regents not to allow health care and education to be restricted by religious doctrine.  The ACLU made the request in a letter sent to the regents in response to a WSU affiliation agreement with the religiously based Providence Health & Services and others to operate as a graduate medical education consortium.

“We understand that there is a shortage of physicians in eastern Washington, and commend WSU’s efforts to address this serious problem. However, these efforts must be consistent with best care medical services and comprehensive medical training, unconstrained by Catholic religious doctrine.  As an institution of the State of Washington, WSU must not subsidize or support the restriction of health care on the basis of religious doctrine,” said ACLU-WA Policy Counsel Leah Rutman.

The bylaws of the Spokane Teaching Health Center consortium state that STHC “shall not undertake any activity, nor shall it perform or permit any medical procedure, that offends the moral or ethical values or directives of Providence, including but not limited to, the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”

Under the Spokane Teaching Health Center bylaws, STHC is required to abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs). These directives forbid or severely restrict many reproductive and end-of-life health services, including contraception, vasectomies, fertility treatments, tubal ligations, abortion, Death with Dignity, and advance directives that are contrary to Catholic teachings. Adherence to the ERDs may also increase the likelihood that LGBT individuals and families will face discrimination in seeking to access health care services consistent with their medical needs. 

The Washington Constitution explicitly prohibits tax dollars and public property from being used to support religion. Washington State University is a secular, public land-grant university. STHC is bound by the ERDs. Therefore, if WSU assists in operating STHC, provides a public building for STHC use, or provides compensation for faculty that are forced to abide by the ERDs, WSU will be impermissibly supporting a health care system that restricts services, training, and education on the basis of religious doctrine.

WSU must ensure that its affiliation does not result in the imposition or the support of religiously based restrictions on reproductive, end-of-life, and LGBT health care services. As a public entity, WSU is subject to Washington’s state constitutional requirements strictly prohibiting state support of religious worship, exercise, or instruction as well as state laws protecting patients’ rights. Further, state law, including the Reproductive Privacy Act (Initiative 120), the Death with Dignity Act (Initiative 1000) and the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Law, supports the provision of reproductive and end-of-life health care as well as requires non-discrimination.

The ACLU also is urging the Board of Regents to take the following steps: (1) withdraw from the consortium until STHC is no longer bound by Providence’s ethical or moral code or the ERDs; (2) provide a written public statement that WSU will remain secular, that no services or information provided at a WSU facility will be restricted on the basis of religious doctrine, and that WSU will not be bound by the ERDs; (3) ensure all current and future contractual agreements clarify WSU’s continued secular status; and (4) ensure all current and future agreements include provisions that allow WSU to end the affiliation if religious doctrine is imposed upon WSU or the consortium.