After a key legislative cut, bills protecting abortion providers and patients in Washington are still in play
by Megan Burbank
Last spring, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision was overturned Roe vs. Wade leaked, Washington lawmakers gathered in Seattle’s Kerry Park and promised a future of legislative remedies to ensure continued access to abortion in the state. In this year’s legislative session, several were introduced, with new protections for providers and patients.
“I feel truly touched and overwhelmed by the generosity of the time, effort and commitment our elected leaders have put into these issues for our patients,” said Courtney Normand, Washington State Director at Planned Parenthood. Alliance Advocates, on emerging policies. Of the bills introduced this session, not all passed the deadline be elected out of their house of origin. Still, following the bills, Normand said she felt ‘gratitude to be in a state where we can do something about this because the amount of cruelty taking place across the country is just appalling. and heartbreaking, but it feels good to be able to try and do something to help people who are able to get to Washington.
Here are the reproductive health policy bills that still have a chance to move forward this year — and that ran out of time.
The policies are not moving forward
New regulations for hospital mergers
The Keep Our Care Act (HB 1263, SB 5241), Also presented last year, would have imposed new reporting requirements when merging healthcare entities, in an effort to ensure continuity of care in a process known to erode access to services such as reproductive healthcare, gender-affirming care and medical assistance in dying. Although the Senate version of the bill came out of the Senate Law and Justice and Ways and Means committees, its progress stopped there. Despite efforts to address the concerns of smaller independent providers through the amendment process, Normand said, time ran out for the bill this year. “There is always a lot of interest in addressing this issue of large mergers of health entities and the ways in which they fail to maintain a good level of access to health care and specific services, not to mention affordable services,” she said. “So we’ll be back to try to get back to that and see if we can pass legislation that helps give much-needed oversight to these entities.”
Policies that made the cut
No cost sharing for abortion
Even when covered by private insurance, abortion can be expensive. Indeed, even with insurance coverage, patient liability, in the form of copays or coinsurance, can be costly. This is a problem for abortion procedures, which can become more expensive and more complex the longer the patient waits. “This is an urgent medical service that people often already have to make a lot of arrangements for, and so when they are suddenly faced with an unforeseen expense just as they are on their way to their appointment, it can really cause a lot of hardship,” Normand said. A bill banning cost-sharing for abortion procedures (SB 5242, HB 1115) would offset these expenses. The policy would not automatically mean that abortion care is free for everyone: Normand noted that it would not impact patients on high-deductible plans (“we certainly want to see what can be done for it”), but that for patients with private insurance on plans with lower deductibles, the legislation should result in full abortion coverage if enacted. The bill rolled out of the Senate and was heard by the House Health Care and Welfare Committee on March 17.
Data Privacy for Personal Health Information
In March, a Texas man filed a lawsuit against three women for allegedly helping his wife get an abortion. The evidence at the center of the case? Text messages sent between his ex-wife and his friends. As more state laws allow for the prosecution of people who facilitate abortion care, advocates are increasingly concerned about privacy when it comes to personal health information not protected by HIPAA – and the possibility that data trails could be used in lawsuits or lawsuits like the one in Texas. The My health, my data law (HB 1155, SB 5351) seeks to fill this gap by establishing privacy protections for personal health information not already protected under HIPAA. The bill would also protect data obtained by crisis pregnancy centers, which look like healthcare facilities but are not bound by HIPAA, and would prevent geofencing around abortion clinics. The bill was defeated by the House on March 4 and is currently being reviewed by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
The Law of the Shield
While Washington law confirms the right to abortion in the absence of Roe vs. Wade, in states with anti-abortion legislatures, those who facilitate or provide abortion care currently face the specter of prosecution. The Law of the Shield (HB 1469, SB 5489) protects suppliers from this type of legal action in Washington. This means that if another state attempted to prosecute a supplier, Washington would not cooperate with any related investigative efforts. Notably, the Shield Act also applies to gender-affirming healthcare providers, which, like abortion, has been banned in states like Florida, cutting off access to young people. The Shield Act establishes both reproductive health care and gender affirming care as protected health care services and would give the Attorney General the power to clamp down on efforts to investigate and prosecute one or the other. The bill passed the House on March 4 and was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
Licensing protections for vendors
Similar to the Shield Act, a second bill (HB 1340, SB 5400) would protect the licenses of abortion providers from retaliatory actions by medical advice. This means that if an abortion provider wants to provide care in Washington, legal action by anti-abortion states will not be a barrier to practicing medicine. The bill was passed by the House on February 28 and is currently at the Rules Committee.
Megan Burbank is a Seattle-based writer and editor. Before becoming a full-time freelancer, she worked as an editor and reporter at the Portland Mercury and the Seattle Times. She specializes in corporate reporting on reproductive health policy and stories at the intersection of gender, politics and culture.
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