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Washington State Democrats Are Watering Down Pro-Choice Legislation

Auditi Guha

In a letter sent to the Washington state Democratic house leadership, a pro-choice coalition withdrew its support for a new version of a reproductive rights bill.

Washington state Democrats blindsided pro-choice advocates on Tuesday by passing a version of the Reproductive Health Access for All Act (RHAA) that didn’t include provisions that would have extended reproductive rights to vulnerable communities like undocumented immigrants.

The Democratic house majority made changes to the bill passed earlier by the state senate (SB.5602). NARAL and Planned Parenthood are part of the multi-organization Health Equity and Reproductive Rights Organizations (HERRO) coalition that has condemned the removal of provisions in the RHAA that would have ensured gender-neutral language and anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents, and expanded coverage of cancer screenings and birth control for all, including undocumented people. 

Many are calling on state senate leaders to refute the changes, which they find “discouraging” in a progressive state like Washington, Tiffany Hankins, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, told Rewire.News.

“I’m furious that the so-called pro-choice Democrat majority…in the Washington state house cannot summon the courage to hold together a community-driven reproductive health equity bill. It is an appalling injustice that these communities face barriers to accessing health care at all, and that marginalized communities are then the first to be sacrificed,” she said.

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“No one’s health should be compromised because of their immigration status,” Lili Navarrete, manager of the Raiz program, Planned Parenthood’s Latino community outreach effort, said Thursday in a statement. “This is the opposite of putting people first, especially with so much alarming rhetoric against immigrants today.”

In a letter sent to the Democratic house leadership Wednesday, the coalition withdrew its support for the watered down version of the legislation; several members who have fought for reproductive rights and the RHAA expressed their outrage.

“The last-minute removal of family planning coverage for undocumented immigrants from RHAA targets the rights of the most marginalized communities in Washington state,” Rosann Mariappuram, If/When/How reproductive justice fellow at Surge, told Rewire.News in an email. “Surge stands with people whose bodies, lives, and families have been subject to state and social control. Access to reproductive health care is a human right. It is not determined by immigration status. We are thankful to our allies in the HERRO coalition, especially Gender Justice League, which represents trans and gender diverse people in Washington, for rejecting political compromises that abandon our communities.”

When the House Democrats have a 16-seat lead, but they still don’t feel secure enough to vote in support of immigrant communities, we have to question if they will ever be willing to do so,Gender Justice League co-executive director Tobi Hill-Meyer said in the statement. The trans community knows what it’s likely to be cut out of a bill to make it more palatable. We need to be clear that removing protections for the most vulnerable is not an acceptable tactic.

The bill now goes back to the state senate. If lawmakers there don’t agree with the changes, it will go to a joint committee.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who supports reproductive rights and has criticized President Trump’s gutting of the Title X family planning program, has not commented on the latest RHAA changes, but advocates expect he would not sign the current version of the bill. Inslee’s office said the governor, a Democratic presidential candidate, has “not reviewed the latest version” of the pro-choice legislation. Inslee will have five days to take action on the bill once it reaches his desk. 

“With a national landscape of states working to criminalize people who have abortion, the president’s attacks on Title X funding, and anti-choice fake health centers, I hope that Washington State lawmakers can correct what they have broken and have the courage to close gaps in access to reproductive health care,” Hankins said.

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