Bill requiring consent for pelvic exams in Washington gets bipartisan support

Feb 28, 2020, 10:35 AM | Updated: 10:36 am

Olympia, legislative session, inslee covid, capital gains tax, unemployed...

The Capitol Building in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Doctors and medical students performing pelvic exams on unconscious women without permission: It may sound crazy, but it’s actually been a widespread practice across the country for decades.

Thousands of rape kits gathering dust will now get tested

It’s an invasive and personal medical procedure that even in the best of circumstances, can be traumatic for some women, especially survivors of sexual abuse.

But if you think that means doctors have to first get a woman’s permission to do such as exam, you’d be wrong.

For decades, it has been a common practice across the country for hospitals to let medical students do pelvic exams on women under anesthesia or are otherwise unconscious as a teaching tool without consent, because it’s not required in most states, including Washington.

Democratic Sen. Marko Liias couldn’t believe it when he heard from a Washington woman on social media warning about the gap in the law.

“It sounded so wild, I couldn’t believe that it could be true,” Liias said.

He had his team in Olympia dig in as part of a fact-finding mission.

“It is true — there’s no requirement to get informed consent [in Washington] for a pelvic exam while unconscious,” Liias said.

That had Liias proposing a bill requiring doctors and their students to get informed consent for pelvic exams in Washington. The measure is poised to pass the Legislature with strong bi-partisan support.

The fact is that most people simply did not know this was happening. It’s only quietly come to light over the last 10 to 15 years, and only just got widespread attention in the last year or so, with many states passing their own laws requiring informed consent for pelvic exams.

As far as whether this has happened in Washington state…

“What we know is that it’s not happening at medical schools [in Washington] which is the typical case we’d seen nationwide,” Liias explained.

But he hesitates to say it has never happened in Washington after reading a recent report on it in The New York Times.

“When I read that New York Times article it made me realize that there are probably other circumstances that this could happen,” Liias explained.

“It definitely underscored the need for me to put that protection in law so that whatever circumstances may or may not have been happening, that that doesn’t happen in the future – that women always have the right to have control over their bodies, even when they’re unconscious,” Liias said.

Women who have been given pelvic exams without consent often feel violated, and that’s especially true of they are sexual assault survivors, Liias found.

“In their words the body has memory, and so even if a woman is not conscious there still are very real impacts on their body that can cause trauma and can cause that sense of violation. So it’s not an innocent practice [and] it’s one that we want to make clear is not okay here, ” Liias explained.

State’s solution to backlog of rape kits could be in Ohio

His bill requires doctors in Washington and their students to have informed consent before performing a pelvic exam on an unconscious woman from either the patient or their representative.

That comes with one exception, though.

“If a woman is suspected to have been a victim of sexual assault and they can’t give consent, and [doctors] need to perhaps do an exam to collect evidence in case once the woman regains consciousness, does want to see prosecution,” Liias said, explaining how lawmakers heard from sexual assault experts to find the best way to handle that scenario.

In that particular scenario, when a woman wakes up, she would retain control over the evidence gathered.

The Senate just needs to sign off on that amendment and the bill will head to Gov. Inslee’s desk to be signed.

Local News

may warmest month...

KIRO 7 News Staff

Seattle area gets second warmest May in nearly 80 years

The Seattle area is pacing for the second warmest May on record dating back to 1945.

18 hours ago

department labor violations young...

Frank Sumrall

Young Corporation faces $2M fine from WA Department of Labor

After 175 violations were discovered by the state Department of Labor, a $2 million fine has been issued against Young Corporation.

18 hours ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

Kevin Ko, KIRO 7 News

Safety, security a concern as Pride Month kicks off Thursday

Seattle city leaders officially proclaimed June 2023 as Pride Month on Thursday, while raising the Pride flag above city hall.

18 hours ago

King County property values...

Frank Sumrall

Property values in King County drop after peaking in 2022

Initial results show property values in King County are still affected by the lingering impacts of the pandemic.

18 hours ago

Burien encampment cleared...

Sam Campbell

Burien encampment being cleared out, residents ask what’s next?

A homeless encampment in downtown Burien is being cleared after a struggle between the city, county, and residents who want it gone.

18 hours ago

seattle double homicide...

Frank Sumrall

Charges filed against Georgetown double homicide suspect

A 45-year-old man has been charged with murder and assault in a double homicide that took place in Georgetown last January.

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Bill requiring consent for pelvic exams in Washington gets bipartisan support