Benton abortion bill text clarified

Legislation redrafted to focus on minors 17 or younger, not 'women'

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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A bill that abortion-rights advocates worried would repeal significant protections for women seeking abortions has been redrafted to address those concerns, a Republican supporter of the bill announced Monday. The new bill, which deals with minors seeking abortions, will get a public hearing in Olympia next week.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, introduced the bill requiring parents be notified if their daughters, 17 or younger, plan to get an abortion. Although the bill's title made no mention of it, one section of that bill would have repealed parts of Initiative 120, which voters approved in 1991.

That initiative set in stone a woman's right to privacy when obtaining an abortion, and it declared that physicians have the right to perform abortions and that women have the right to get one, as long as the fetus could not survive outside the womb. The section of the bill that would have repealed parts of I-120 was erroneously added by the state's nonpartisan bill drafters, Code Reviser Kyle Thiessen told Republicans in an email.

The new draft of Senate Bill 5156 omits the section in question.

The original bill also violated government transparency rules, said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

"Our state's constitution says in so many words that the title and text of a bill need to line up," Padden said in a statement released Monday. "This bill's title is clearly about notifying parents or guardians; however, an error made in the bill-drafting stage had the effect of the original text going beyond the title."

Despite the setback, Padden, who also is a sponsor of the bill, said the proposal will receive a hearing in his committee on Feb. 6.

"This legislation would not prohibit an underage girl from having an abortion," he said. "It would simply give her parent or guardian the chance to talk with her ahead of time."

If the bill becomes law, abortion providers would need to notify at least one parent or guardian, either by phone or in person, at least 48 hours before the procedure.

If the patient wants to waive the parental notification requirement, she would have to go to court. The patient would have to prove that she is mature enough to make a decision about abortion, or that there is a good reason her parents should not be notified, including abuse at home.

Abortion-rights activists say that although the bill doesn't technically prohibit a minor's access to an abortion, it does create significant roadblocks.

"It still puts at even greater risk the few teens in this state who aren't able to involve their parents when they face an unintended pregnancy," Jennifer Allen, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said on Monday. "Government can't force families to have healthy communication."

Allen said most teens already involve their parents in their pregnancy decisions, and those who don't come from bad home situations. It's unlikely that troubled, pregnant teens will be comfortable with navigating the court system, and they might decide to run away from home or to try to end their pregnancy in an unsafe way, she said.

"The last thing we want is a piece of legislation that would make things more unsafe for her and potentially cause her to take matters into her own hands," Allen said.

Benton's original bill referred to "women" rather than "minors," and it would have redefined the state's definition of an abortion, adding the language "death of the unborn child." The new bill refers only to minors and preserves the state's current definition of abortion, which is: "any medical treatment intended to induce the termination of a pregnancy except for the purpose of producing a live birth."

The new draft of the bill reflects the intent of the 18 senators who have signed onto it, Padden said. In addition to Benton, those senators signing onto the bill include Ann Rivers, R-La Center; John Braun, R-Centralia; and Curtis King, R-Yakima.

Benton did not return a call from The Columbian on Monday.


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