Dozens testify on Benton's abortion notification bill

It would require step for girls 17 or younger

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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When Terry Hegerle was a teen living in Colorado, she went before a judge to request an abortion after she was raped, Hegerle told state lawmakers in Olympia on Wednesday afternoon.

It was 1970, before the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal in all 50 states for those in their first trimester of pregnancy. She went before the judge with her parents, and retold the story about how she was raped while walking home from a school function. She was 15.

Hegerle, who now lives in Vancouver, said she felt "humiliation and shame having to relive my nightmare" by telling it to a stranger. "As a teenager, you cannot image the amount of fear and anxiety I experienced speaking before the judge."

Hegerle asked lawmakers to remember her story as they consider whether to pass a bill requiring parents be notified at least 48 hours ahead of time if their daughter, 17 or younger, is going to get an abortion. Teens who don't want their parents notified would need to make their case before a judge.

Under the bill, which was introduced by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, a pregnant minor could get around the parental notification rule if she proves in court that she is mature enough to make an abortion decision, or that there is a good reason her parents should not be notified, including abuse at home.

Roughly 45 people, representing a wide range of beliefs, testified on Benton's bill during the public hearing Wednesday before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Supporters of the bill said parents have to provide their consent before their children go on a field trip, get a piercing or are given medication at school, so it only makes sense to at least let them know if their teen is going to get an abortion. Some supporters also detailed the mental or physical struggles they personally went through after getting an abortion.

Opponents of the bill said that most teens already include their parents in their pregnancy decisions, and that many of those who keep their abortion a secret come from dysfunctional family situations. Troubled teens would have difficulty navigating the court system to waive the parental notification requirement, and they could seek out illegal abortions or questionable online advice about ending a pregnancy, opponents of the bill also said.

Toward the end of the hearing, two Vancouver women, Carolyn Crain and Josephine Wentzel, testified in support of Benton's bill.

Senate Bill 5156 states that notification must be made to at least one parent or guardian, either by phone or in person. If the parent can't be reached by phone, a letter can be sent as a last resort.

The bill would create a gross misdemeanor charge for parents who coerce their daughters into getting an abortion, and another gross misdemeanor charge for physicians who perform abortions without providing parental notification.

Additionally, a pregnant minor would not need parental notification if she needs an abortion because of a medical emergency or if she is legally emancipated from her parents or guardians. Women 18 and older would need parental notification if they been found mentally incompetent by the courts.

If the court takes more than 24 hours to decide whether to waive parental notification, the notification requirement is automatically waived, according to the bill.

Benton defends his bill

Benton said his bill is not about abortion or women's rights. He said his bill is about parental rights.

Benton said it's odd that teens need to involve their parents when signing a contract to purchase a car, but they don't need to involve their parents in their abortion decisions. Benton said abortion rights have been elevated to "a sacred level" that allows teens to undergo a medical procedure without their parents even knowing about it.

"This bill is not about abortion or trying to stop it," Benton said. "It is about bringing families closer together."

The bill is co-signed by 17 other Senate Republicans, including Ann Rivers of La Center, John Braun of Centralia, and Curtis King of Yakima.

Inslee opposes the bill

Passing Benton's bill would be a step in the wrong direction, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said during a press conference on Wednesday morning. He also urged the passage of the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require insurance companies that provide maternity coverage to also cover abortions.

Parental notification "goes backwards to ideological debates we should be well beyond in the state of Washington," Inslee said. "We have made a decision as a state. We are a pro-choice state. We are a state that recognizes the privacy rights of women. It should not be dictated by state government."

The bill also faces a challenge in the state House, which has a Democratic majority. Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, has called the parental notification bill divisive. He sits on the House Rules Committee, which decides which proposals should receive a full House vote.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com