Organized by Pro Choice Washington, the rally drew more than 60 people holding signs and singing, with loud music blasting from the speakers.
Just before lawmakers were due to speak, a single line of anti-abortion protesters from Tiny Heartbeat Ministries marched onto the lawn opposite the steps of the Capitol in counter-protest. They held large signs, graphic in nature, which allegedly depicted aborted fetuses, though they declined to disclose the source of these images.
On the steps of the Capitol, several lawmakers addressed protesters, including House Speaker Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
“While we should be here right now celebrating the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are here mourning the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court took away a constitutional right for the first time in history,” Jinkins said. “Let me tell you, I’m so crazy about this.”
Following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision last summer, the country is moving into a post-Roe world. For many Washington lawmakers, that means protecting the right to abortion in the state.
One way to do that is through a proposal from Governor Jay Inslee that would enshrine the law in the state constitution, but it’s probably not enough support to make it to this session.
“We can’t be lulled into thinking this is a thing of the past,” Inslee told the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee on Tuesday.
Before going to voters for final approval, a constitutional amendment would require votes from two-thirds of the state’s Senate and House, which would require some Republican support. Republicans have indicated that they do not support the measure.
During the testimony, Inslee received backlash from Republicans on the panel, including Sens. Ann Rivers, of La Center, and Mike Padden, of Spokane. Rivers said the law is settled and she “doesn’t see any world where Washington changes course on this issue.”
“I hope we can stop sowing fear of women losing their right to choose and focus on issues that are more pressing in the state,” she said.
Inslee returned to the idea that the law would not change, especially if the composition of the legislature or the governor changed.
“It cannot be left to the whims of who sits on the bench or who sits in the legislature,” he added.
The controversial bill drew mixed testimony from abortion advocates who say it is necessary to ensure Washington residents have access to abortion in the future, and those against abortion who say it is going in the wrong direction.
“Washington doesn’t have to be a pro-choice state forever,” said Kathryn Amdahl of Eastern Washington University Students for Life. “It can change.”
Despite pressure from Inslee, lawmakers have said they don’t envision the bill passing both chambers.
D-Spokane Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said the bill will likely go out of committee, but that it is “highly unlikely” to pass a vote in the full Senate chamber based on previous votes and public statements by the Republicans. side.
While legislators may not pass a constitutional amendment this session, they are working to expand access and protections for patients and healthcare providers in Washington. Those bills don’t need a two-thirds vote, and they likely have enough Democratic support to pass.
A bill heard Tuesday would ban cost-sharing, such as a co-payment or deductible, for coverage of abortion services. For plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2024, including those offered to government employees, a health insurer may not impose cost-sharing for abortion or pregnancy under the bill.
Another bill would protect people in Washington who receive or provide abortion care from prosecution in another state. It prohibits out-of-state subpoenas to seek information and out-of-state criminal investigations and arrests related to reproductive health services. It would also prohibit the governor from extraditing people for out-of-state charges, and would protect health care providers from harassment related to reproductive health care.
In Tuesday’s testimony, James McMahan, policy director for the Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said this bill would make police officers’ jobs too complicated.
“Demanding affirmative terms in the civil and criminal enforcement of laws in Washington that are specific to the laws of another state that are not being enforced creates unnecessary challenges, complexities, and compromises justice in the enforcement of Washington’s laws” said McMahan.
Lawmakers are also looking at protecting patient health data.
The My Health, My Data Act requires third-party services, such as menstrual cycle tracking apps, to post policies regarding the collection and sharing of health data, and require them to obtain consumer consent before collecting or sharing data. It would prohibit both the sale of this data and the use of geofencing, a form of location-based advertising, around healthcare facilities.
While the bill generally applies to health data protection, supporters stressed the importance of data collection related to reproductive health and gender care. According to testimonials, people seeking abortions are often targeted by anti-abortion messages and advertisements on their cell phones when they are near an abortion provider, enabled by geofencing.
“Isn’t it enough that our patients have to deal with protesters and fake clinics?” said Anuj Khattar, medical director of abortion clinic Cedar River Clinics. “They shouldn’t have to deal with antitrust harassment on their phones and through technology.”
Opponents expressed concern that the language in the bill would cause it to overstep its intent, and that it could be applied to other types of data, such as daily purchases of toilet paper or shoes, for example.
In addition to protecting providers from criminal prosecution by other states, another proposal would protect providers’ licenses.
Providers who provide reproductive health services or gender affirming care in another state where it is illegal will not be penalized in Washington when they try to get a license to practice.
Riccelli, the bill sponsor, said it would ensure providers’ licenses aren’t compromised if they do such procedures in another state.
Another bill aims to preserve community access to comprehensive reproductive medical care by regulating mergers of hospitals and health systems. It would change reporting requirements for mergers, acquisitions or contractual relationships between hospitals, hospital systems or supplier organizations.
It would require them to submit documents related to access to care, including emergency, primary care, reproductive care, gender affirming care, or end-of-life care, and how any of these areas would be impacted by a proposed transaction. The Attorney General would determine whether the transaction would adversely affect access to accessible, affordable health care and monitor it for at least 10 years.
A public hearing on the bill had split testimony. Proponents said the bill would create much-needed oversight and protect access to reproductive health care. Opponents, including hospital systems and the state hospital association, said the bill could delay much-needed mergers and lead to hospitals closing.
The 105-day legislative session ends on April 23.
Laurel Demkovich’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished for free by other organizations under a Creative Commons license. For more information about this, please contact the editor-in-chief of our newspaper.