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ACLU-led Coalition: Preserve Abortion Services at Pr. Geo.'s Hospital

Anne Bartlett

A coalition of groups led by the ACLU wants the Prince George's Hospital Authority to declare in writing that health-care management companies interested in taking over the county's hospital system will offer abortions and other reproductive health services.

Representatives for the groups recently addressed the seven-member authority, which has been charged by a new state law with finding new owners for the system, anchored by the Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly.

The ACLU request seems to have been prompted by negotiations conducted in the spring between Johnson and leaders of Ascension Health, a St. Louis-based Catholic hospital chain. It was never clear what reproductive services Ascension would offer if it won the right to buy the system from the county and take over day-to-day management from the nonprofit group Dimensions Health, the nonprofit group that runs currently running the system.

The issue became moot when state leaders opposed the Ascension deal and instead backed the creation of an authority to conduct an open-bidding process with potential new owners. An Ascension executive said months ago that the company would consider making an offer.

The authority now plans to release a formal request for proposals with details on what it is seeking from interested companies on Sept..22. That document will lay out what the authority is looking for in bidders.

Officials with the ACLU, along with Planned Parenthood and NARAL, wants the reproductive services issue addressed.

"Any organization that seeks to own and operate the Prince George's health system must be prepared to meet the basic health needs of county residents," wrote Johnny Barnes, executive director of the ACLU of the National Capitol Area in a letter to the authority. "The request for proposals must therefore require all bidders to meet those needs."

In an interview, Barnes said services the groups want the proposals to address include condom distribution, HIV/AIDs counseling, elective sterilization, and access to emergency contraception and abortions. A Dimensions spokeswoman said there were 458 abortions were performed at Dimensions' facilities last year.

Barnes said the groups would not rule out legal action if their request is not met. He noted that the hospital system will receive hundreds of millions in public funds.

"We are not looking to involve this matter in the courts," he Barnes said. "That's not on the table, but it's not off the table."

Authority Chairman Kenneth Glover said the panel members are is still discussing the issue. But he suggested members are unlikely to insert language into the request for proposals that would dissuade interested bidders from making an offer. Instead, he said, the group might be unlikely to choose a new hospital owners that offers fewer services than now available at Dimensions.

"You have to look at all the bids and see what they offer," he said.

By Anne Bartlett  |  September 8, 2008; 9:34 AM ET
Categories:  Prince George's County , Prince George's Hospital , Rosalind Helderman  
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