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State lawmakers take up abortion debate amid uncertain future for Roe v. Wade

Jan 20, 2022, 2:06 PM | Updated: Jan 21, 2022, 10:30 am
Abortion...
Protesters in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The national debate surrounding abortion and reproductive rights is also taking place in Washington state during 2022’s legislative session.

State leaders react as Supreme Court weighs challenge to abortion laws

For Democrats in the state Legislature, that comes in the form of a new bill from state Sen. Emily Randall, which would seek to update outdated language in Washington laws related to abortion rights, as well as codifying existing practices.

Randall’s bill would clarify that licensed providers and clinicians can legally provide abortion care, even if they’re not doctors.

“The science and the research is so clear that qualified licensed advanced practice clinicians are important in our network of access to abortion care,” she said during a Thursday press conference. “That’s why this legislative session, I’m proud to be the Senate sponsor of new legislation to codify those previous opinions and to ensure that an expanded pool of health care providers can provide abortions.”

The bill received a hearing in the state Senate’s Healthcare and Wellness Committee on Thursday, with Randall describing it as “a Democratic priority in both chambers.” She also expressed confidence in the legislation having “a clear path to the governor’s desk” by the end of the session.

Given that abortion providers across the United States are bracing for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade in 2022, Randall believes strengthening Washington’s protections is more important now that ever, especially if neighboring states opt to restrict their own reproductive rights.

“Abortion providers in Washington are rapidly preparing for the increase in women and people of a reproductive age between 15 and 49, who will drive hundreds of miles to Washington borders from our neighbors in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada, depending on what type of ban the Supreme Court institutes,” she described.

This comes while Republicans in the Washington Legislature have introduced a trio of bills designed to roll back the state’s abortion protections. The first comes from state Rep. Brad Klippert in the form of HB 1679, which would make medical abortion methods received through pills a felony, excepting situations where they would be necessary to preserving the life of the mother.

Washington AG joins coalition in lawsuit against ‘wrong, unlawful’ Texas abortion ban

The second — SB 5516 — is sponsored by Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato. It would seek to require what’s known as informed consent before an abortion could be performed. That means a physician would have to inform a woman in writing of alternative options to receiving an abortion, as well as the “probable gestational age of the unborn child at the time the abortion is to be performed,” and the legal requirements the father of the child would have if the pregnancy was brought to term. The woman would then have to verify in writing that she received that information, and then formally offer consent to the procedure.

The third bill is also from Sen. Fortunato. SB 5625 would mandate that all abortion providers transmit data to the state Department of Health regarding the number of failed abortions resulting in a live birth, the number of patients who become “unintentionally sterile” during an abortion, and the average length of stay in the hospital due to abortion-related complications.

As Sen. Randall pointed out, though, none of the bills proposed by Republicans are likely to progress during this legislative session, particularly in a Legislature where Democrats control both chambers.

“Often these bills by our Republican colleagues that are attacks on abortion access and reproductive rights don’t get hearings, and I don’t have any reason to believe that this year would be different,” she noted. “There’s just not the time to hear bills that aren’t going to have a path forward, and I can say very confidently that these Republican bills in this makeup of our Legislature don’t have a path forward.”

Even so, she expressed that it’s “important to keep an eye on them.”

“With the national conversation with us facing the overturning of Roe [v. Wade] at the Supreme Court, we are going to continue having more divisive conversations in our communities, and even though we know that most Washingtonians support reproductive rights, we can’t just pass by these messaging bills,” Randall said.

“I think it’s important for us to track them, to keep an eye on them, and to ensure that we’re being bolder than ever before to strengthen reproductive rights in our state,” she added.

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State lawmakers take up abortion debate amid uncertain future for Roe v. Wade