NARAL volunteers walking the marbled halls to drum up support for the bill.
  • NARAL volunteers walking the marbled halls to drum up support for the bill.
At 6:45 a.m. over 100 “life-affirming specialists,” church-loving retirees, and families with homeschooled teenagers opposed to this year’s Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act (SB 5274) stood huddled outside the state capitol building, blowing on their chilled hands and passing out pins that read “I (heart) Pregnancy Resource Centers." An hour later, roughly 300 people were lined up to oppose the legislation, which would require religious-powered pregnancy centers to inform women (verbally and in writing) that they don't provide medical care, birth control, or abortion referrals to women seeking those services (more on that here).

The crowd and testimony at the 8:00 a.m. meeting of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee wasn't much different from last week's, with one striking exception: The most inflammatory pro-life rhetoric was coming from vocal Republican lawmakers in the committee, not from the hundreds anti-abortion advocates signed up to oppose the measure.

“I just want to thank the hundreds of people in opposition to this bill,” says Senator Randi Becker (R-2) in her opening remarks to those assembled. “Thanks for standing up and voicing your concern for a piece of legislation you strongly oppose.”

Becker and her conservative peers delayed the public testimony by repeatedly challenging women’s health advocates on the bill's constitutionality. They argued with that it would limit free speech*. They raised the “slippery slope” argument—that forcing centers to disclose what services they don’t provide would lead to gynecologists prominently advertising that they don’t perform back surgery. And throughout the hearing, Republican lawmakers attacked women’s health advocates in general. The interruptions forced committee chair Karen Keiser (D-33) to cut testimony short after hearing from only six people on each side of the debate.

*ACLU legislative director Shankar Narayan testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the ACLU. He stressed that the legislation met the constitutional standard of protecting free speech. Last year, the ACLU testified against a similar bill aimed at regulating limited service pregnancy centers—with a mandate that they provide "medically and scientifically accurate" information to women—on the grounds that it didn’t meet these standards.

“This is the second year in a row Planned Parenthood has [pushed] essentially to sue pregnancy centers out of existence,” Senator Cheryl Pflug (R-5) remarked to Dr. Kate McLean, an OBGYN doctor with the University of Washington Medical Center who was testifying in support of the bill. “But have we seen any measures from the life centers demanding that Planned Parenthood show pictures of aborted fetuses?” Pflug then name-checked a widely discredited study that claimed to show a correlation between breast cancer and abortion before asking McLean, "So do you think we should require physicians to disclose that [abortion causes breast cancer]?”

Dr. McLean, and others, ignored the baseless points raised by conservative lawmakers to patiently restate the bill's purpose: To make pregnancy centers disclose the services they do and don’t provide to the women who walk through their doors, and hold them accountable when they fail. “We have no problem with the centers—they offer women valuable services like free diapers, pregnancy tests, counseling,” explained Elaine Rose, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes of Washington. “But they deliberately locate their clinics near us and don’t disclose the limits of their services. We have clients who tell us they walk in their doors mistaking their clinics for ours. We’re trying to prevent that deception.”

Despite the sharp criticisms lobbed at the bill—and its advocates—this morning, five of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee's nine members (all Democrats) are co-sponsoring the legislation. Women’s health advocates are “cautiously confident” the bill will make it out of committee for a full vote in the Senate.