House Republicans in Washington state are backing a bill to limit state coverage of abortion to women who can prove their lives are in imminent danger.
Washington is one of the few states where low-income women can get help paying for abortion services from the state. The Evergreen State covered 10,335 terminations in fiscal year 2015 at a cost of $5.6 million, according to the latest figures from the Washington Health Care Authority and Department of Health. The figure has declined from a decade earlier, when the state paid $6.8 million for 13,746 abortion services.
AB 2294 would severely curtail state payments for abortion. The procedure would only be covered if the woman’s doctor decides she is in “imminent danger because of a serious physical disorder, illness, or injury if the abortion is not performed,” according to draft language of the bill.
The bill, backed by 23 Republicans, is even more punitive than the federal Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal monies for abortion, but makes exceptions for the life of the mother, and in cases of rape and incest. AB 2294 does not include such provisions for rape and incest.
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The Washington bill also strips all state funding from abortion providers and those “affiliated, in whole or in part” with the providers:
The secretary may not enter into contracts, distribute grants, or direct funds to any organization that provides elective abortions or is affiliated, in whole or in part, with any organization that provides elective abortions, or receives consideration from or provides consideration to, directly or indirectly, any organization that provides elective abortions.
The ban would affect health-care facilities and Planned Parenthood centers across the state.
One of the bill’s key sponsors, Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee), told Rewire in a recent phone interview that after hearing of whistleblower reports of wrongdoing in Planned Parenthood’s billing of Medicaid, “We [lawmakers] have fiduciary responsibility to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent properly.”
A federal judge in 2014 rejected the lawsuit of a Washington state man, Jonathan Bloedow, who alleged that the local Planned Parenthood affiliate submitted false claims to Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services and its Health and Recovery Services Administration, a decision that the plaintiff’s attorneys are appealing. A recent investigation into Planned Parenthood in Washington state found no wrongdoing after 44 lawmakers, all Republican save for one, demanded the probe.
Washington has long been considered a blue state, but its Democratic dominance is eroding. Republicans control the state senate and Democrats are clinging to a two-vote majority in the house. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, eked out a narrow victory against a Republican opponent in 2012.
Rachel Berkson, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Washington, sees the bill’s restrictions as part of a nationwide assault on reproductive rights, and one that would significantly curtail low-income women’s health-care options in the state.
“If you have the right to an abortion, but you cannot afford it, then you truly don’t have access,” Berkson told Rewire in a phone interview Monday.
A total of 17 states offer state funding for abortion services—the majority by court order—but the coverage has increasingly come under attack. A ballot measure in Oregon would strip the procedure of state funding, as Rewire reported, and abortion opponents are mounting similar efforts elsewhere.
Restricting funding for abortion bakes in inequity, advocates say, leaving low-income patients with fewer health-care options than their wealthier counterparts. And gutting funding for reproductive health-care also carries serious public health consequences, data from the Guttmacher Institute suggests. In 2013, publicly supported health centers in Washington provided contraceptive care to 111,880 women. Absent publicly funded services, the rate of pregnancy, unplanned birth, and abortion for Washington women could rise 45 percent and the teen pregnancy rate could climb 46 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Janet Chung, a lawyer with the Seattle-based advocacy group Legal Voice, called the GOP-backed bill “cruel.”
“Recognize what this bill is,” she recently told The Stranger. “An attack on low-income women, often women of color.”