OLYMPIA – The state Senate approved a measure that would provide greater access to birth control and other reproductive health services, including abortions.
Passed by a slim margin, 26-22 on Wednesday, Jan. 31, the vote marks the farthest the Senate Bill 6219, the Reproductive Parity Act, has advanced since it was introduced in 2012.
The vote was largely along party lines. This session also marks a new Democratic majority in the House and the Senate
If passed into law, the act would allow state funding for abortion and contraception coverage and require health plans that offer maternity coverage to also offer abortion coverage. The measures would also mandate plans that cover prescription drugs to cover contraceptive drugs and devices like IUDs as well. Its aim is to make abortion and contraceptives affordable for women in every income bracket.
“The decision to have an abortion is a difficult, painful decision that is personal and one that only she should make,” said Senator Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens.
Senator Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee said the bill comes at a time when Washingtonians are unsure of healthcare rollbacks at the federal level and it seeks to combat that.
Senator Ann Rivers, R-Battle Ground, raised concerns about the financial implications of the bill. She said that lawmakers should focus more on making sure everyone in the state has access to healthcare rather than providing new services for contraception and abortion.
But Cleveland said that the bill does more to ensure equal access across the state and will be more cost effective in the long run.
“The Reproductive Parity Act is a dramatic example, in my mind, of how we put people first and how we can improve women’s access to services that are critical to their health,” she said.
Five amendments were brought forward addressing the conscious rights of religious organizations, abortions regarding those susceptible to Down syndrome, and abortions based on gender. None of the amendments passed with the bill.
Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who raised an amendment to recognize religious organizations’ conscious rights, claimed the bill forces religious employers to offer abortion and contraception coverage even though it goes against their beliefs.
“What are we coming to that we can’t value human life,” said Senator Jan Angel, R-Kitsap, calling out that there are no Republican co-sponsors on the bill.
However, Cleveland said that the bill has been well vetted on both sides of the isle. She said it protects the conscious rights of religious organizations, and already addresses the issues of abortions based on a possible birth defect or gender discrimination.
All the amendments were brought forward by men although they were supported by Republican women.
“It tells me that even today in 2018, there are those who feel they know better than we women how to best make decisions about our health,” Cleveland said.
The next step for the bill is the House of Representatives where it has been referred to the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee.
Taylor McAvoy is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.