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Washington State Democrats Battle Over Reproductive Health Care for Undocumented Immigrants (Updated)

Auditi Guha

The Washington State Senate's version of the legislation expands reproductive health coverage to undocumented people. The state house's version doesn't.

UPDATE, May 15, 2:11 p.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday signed the Reproductive Health Access for All Act. 

After Democrats in the Washington State House passed a reproductive health bill that removed proposed benefits for undocumented people, the state senate has asked house leaders to go back to the original bill.

The state senate passed the Reproductive Health Access for All Act (RHAA) on March 7, a bill aimed at eliminating the barriers to care faced by young people, immigrants, rural residents, transgender and gender non-conforming people, and people of color. The legislation uses gender-neutral language and includes anti-discrimination protections for transgender and non-binary people, and it expands reproductive health coverage to include cancer screenings and birth control for all. The version passed in the senate would expand that access to undocumented people.

While Washington—where Democrats control the legislature—is among the states with the most access to contraception, more than 430,000 women in the state remain in need of government-funded contraceptive services and supplies, according to Power to Decide, an organization raising awareness about contraception access in the United States. More than 10,000 women in the state live in a county without a health center that provides the full range of contraceptive methods.

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Reproductive health advocates withdrew support last week after house Democrats passed a version of the bill that removed the coverage for undocumented people. The two chambers will have to agree on a version of the bill before the legislation can head to to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) desk. Inslee’s office said on Friday he had not reviewed or weighed in on the amended bill.

“Washington has a long history of standing strong for reproductive freedom, of leading the way for the rest of the country,” state Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), lead sponsor of SB 5602, said in an emailed statement. “I, along with my Senate Democratic Caucus colleagues, was disappointed at the changes the House made to weaken this important policy. That’s why we chose to ‘not concur’ with their changes, and to send the bill back to the House.”

The coalition of Health Equity and Reproductive Rights Organizations (HERRO) condemned house Democrats’ removal of the section.

“The Senate’s move keeps the conversation alive, but we need to find something everyone can agree to in order to move forward,” Tobi Hill-Meyer, co-executive director of the Gender Justice League, told Rewire.News in an email. “We are in the middle of several conversations with members of the House and Senate and are hopeful that we will find a solution that everyone will be okay with that will allow us to move forward without losing the progress we’ve made so far.”

Meanwhile, advocates and state senate Democrats are keeping the pressure on.

“I’ve been working closely with my colleagues in the House, as well as the broad coalition of stakeholders who brought this bill to the legislature, to pass a policy that is a strong as possible, and to ensure we have provisions in our budget that reflect our continued commitment to reproductive justice,” Randall said. “I was proud to prime sponsor SB 5602, a bill that continues in that strong tradition—eliminating barriers to essential reproductive health care for folks who are most vulnerable: our transgender and undocumented neighbors, college students who’ve survived sexual assault, folks at higher risk of contracting HIV.”

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