OLYMPIA — Speaking before a crowd of about 250 abortion-rights supporters at the Capitol on Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee called for an up-or-down vote in the state Senate on a measure to require most insurers in the state to pay for abortions.
"Washington state doesn't deserve just a hearing on the Reproductive Parity Act," said Inslee, referring to the bill by the name its supporters use. "It deserves a vote in the state Senate on the Reproductive Parity Act. We are going to insist that we are not going to let anybody close the door to democracy in this state."
Looking on as Inslee made his remarks was Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina. A supporter of abortion rights, Tom leads a caucus dominated by abortion foes and a Senate whose committee structure does not give the measure a clear path to the floor for a vote.
Speaking prior to Inslee, Tom told the crowd that he is on their side.
"I'm down here making sure that my 17-year-old daughter has the kind of protections that we need in Washington state and that all of our kids have those same kinds of protections," Tom said.
Bill supporters say it would ensure continued coverage for abortions once federal health care reforms taking effect next year trigger bureaucratic hurdles for insurers paying for the procedure.
Opponents say that abortion insurance coverage is already widespread and that the bill is unnecessary. They also contend the measure puts federal dollars at risk and threatens the religious freedoms of those who oppose abortion rights.
Proponents answer those concerns by pointing to language in the bill that would render moot any sections inconsistent with federal law and provisions granting protections to insurance carriers that object to covering abortion on religious grounds.
The measure is expected to pass out of the Democratic-controlled House but faces an uncertain future in the Republican-dominated Senate.
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and chair of the Health Care Committee, said she plans to hear the measure in her committee once it passes out of the House. She said she's not inclined to support it but is open to learning more. She isn't certain whether it will pass out of her committee. If it does, the bill would go to the Senate Rules Committee, which acts as a gatekeeper for measures to reach the floor. With 13 of 22 members belonging to Tom's majority caucus, the bill faces an uphill battle there.
Tom said he does not plan on going around that committee to bring the measure to the floor -- an action that would anger most in his caucus but delight abortion-rights advocates, who insist they have the votes to pass it in the full Senate.
"We'll see what coalesces and what doesn't coalesce," Tom said. "I don't think we're going to need to circumvent any committees."