Women’s access to reproductive health care and abortions were at the forefront in Olympia Tuesday as two bills were the focus of a public hearing before the Senate Health and Long Term Care committee.
Senate Joint Resolution 8202 would enshrine a woman’s right to reproductive freedom in the Washington Constitution, while Senate Bill 5242, sponsored by committee chair Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, would prohibit health plans from imposing cost sharing for abortions.
Among the religious leaders, health care professionals, advocates and others testifying during the nearly two-hour hearing was Gov. Jay Inslee. In his first time testifying before the committee, Inslee spoke in support of the resolution.
“We are now in a historic fight to maintain reproductive freedom and the right to abortion access,” Inslee told the legislators. “We cannot be lulled into thinking that this is a past debate. It is a current challenge, and it is a current threat to the women of the state of Washington.”
The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, also spoke in support of the proposed constitutional amendment.
“For over 50 years, the right to choose was guaranteed in all 50 states. And then six justices on the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take away the right to choose from half of all Americans, the first time in history the court has ever removed a civil right,” Kuderer said.
Since then, Kuderer said there has been a “clarion call” to restore the right to choose from young and old alike.
Opponents to the bill included Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who said the state already has a law on the books to protect access to abortions. Also speaking against the bill was Brad Payne of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. Payne said Washington was once a place revered for its innovative and creative opportunities, but Inslee changed that.
“Sadly, our governor has changed that plan to make Washington a destination to abort babies,” Payne said.
Payne said rather than funding abortion access, the governor and Legislature should be spending more on pregnancy resource centers, financial assistance to women to help raise children, tax credits for medical care and adoption services.
Unlike other bills, the joint resolution would require a two-thirds majority vote from the House and Senate to pass. If approved, the bill would put the decision to voters. Inslee remained confident lawmakers could meet the challenge, adding it was time for “pro-choice states like Washington” to take a stand.
Cleveland’s bill also drew its fair share of supporters and opponents.
“This bill is about removing barriers to access to safe abortion services, regardless of the ability to pay,” Cleveland told the committee.
Courtney Normand of Planned Parenthood Advocates Alliance said out-of-pockets costs are one of the biggest barriers to access.
“As states across the country enact cruel restrictions and outright bans, Washington must continue to lead in expanding access and ensuring that no one’s health plan coverage dictates their pregnancy decisions,” Normand said.
There were also several opponents of the bill testifying including Julie Barrett, founder of the group Conservative Ladies of Washington. Barrett said the state does not have endless funds available to pay costs not covered by insurance carriers.
“If we’re going to eliminate cost sharing for abortions, we need to discuss who’s going to pay for it, whether it’s the taxpayers for people receiving state-funded medical care or the end user of insurance coverage.”
But Cleveland disagrees. She said no one should be denied reproductive health care because they can’t pay for it.
“Senate Bill 5242 not only eliminates the burden of out-of-pocket costs for patients, it ensures equity and fairness by further relieving barriers of access to care,” Cleveland said in an email Tuesday.
Both bills will come back before the committee for a second reading and possible vote, however no date has been set as of yet.