The state Attorney General’s Office today released a formal opinion related to public hospital districts within Washington and Initiative 120, which declared that residents have a “fundamental right to choose or refuse” birth control or abortion.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, requested the Attorney General’s take on whether a hospital district violates the terms of I-120, if it contracts with a health care provider that does not provide broad reproductive care services. Some faith-based providers choose not to offer abortion services, for example.

The Attorney General’s Office formal opinion (AGO 2013 No. 3) states that the plain language of the law dictates that a public hospital district providing maternity care must also provide “substantially equivalent benefits, services or information” under Initiative 120. The AG was not asked to explain exactly how districts may comply with this requirement, or what constitutes substantially equivalent benefits, services or information.

The opinion also says nothing about purely private hospitals, and instead addresses only hospitals funded by tax dollars through public hospital districts.

A formal opinion constitutes the official view of the Attorney General’s Office. While these formal opinions are not legally binding, they have historically been given great weight by the courts.