Both state Senator Steve OBan (R-University Place) and Senator Mike Padden (R-Padden) support the teen parental involvement bill. Theyre also vice chair and chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, respectively.
  • Washington State Legislature
  • Both Senator Steve O'Ban (R-University Place), left, and Senator Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), right, support the teen parental involvement bill. They're also vice chair and chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, respectively.

Washington is one of the few states that doesn’t have a law requiring parental notification of a daughter's abortion. This is a good thing; a majority of minors already tell their parents about reproductive decisions, and the ones who don’t likely have good reasons—like parents who would disown them, kick them out, become violent, or try and prevent the procedure.

But on Monday, lawmakers in Olympia heard public comment on a bill (SB 5289) that would change the rules in Washington and require parental involvement in a minor's abortion.

It's sponsored by Republicans—including Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) and Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley)—as well as one conservative Democrat, and it would require that parents be notified of their teen's decision within 48 hours of an appointment seeking abortion options. The only way a minor could get out of that requirement would be if the abortion were a medical emergency, a parent or guardian waived notification (which seems counterintuitive), or the teenager were to go through a court.

In a best-case scenario, this "judicial bypass" exception would delay health care while a minor shows that she's been abused by one or both parents—or proves in front of a judge that she's "sufficiently mature" enough to decide that she might not be ready to have a kid when she, herself, is also a kid. In worst-case scenarios, courts could turn teenagers away or humiliate them.

The senate bill also uses a "clear and convincing evidence" standard that would make it more difficult for minors to show that they do need the procedure, according to Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute. "There are these new twists that are being added to parental involvement laws that didn’t exist five, 10 years ago," Nash says. "In general, I think the evidence still stands that requiring notification or consent really harms those teens that do not have good relationships with their parents. What we see out of these bills is an attempt to legislate family relationships, which we all know is impossible."

The language of the senate bill argues that parental notification would reduce abortions and teen pregnancy, despite little evidence to show for it. A Guttmacher Institute review of "parental involvement" laws from 2009 found that the clearest impact of the policy is "an increase in the number of minors traveling outside their home states to obtain abortion services."

Several people testified passionately about the bill at yesterday's Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing. One panel of pro-life advocates argued that notifying parents of an abortion could prevent girls from getting sucked into sex trafficking(!), abusing drugs(!), or becoming homicidal(?!). A pro-choice panel asked lawmakers to consider the hardships that minors already face in trying to seek out an abortion (like cost and transportation), and pointed out the health risks of delaying abortion procedures. In a small town with a very visible courthouse, a judicial bypass might mean the same thing as notifying parents, too.

"The legislature is distracting folks from real changes that could reduce teen pregnancy, like by providing more access to contraception," said Jennifer Allen, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.

This isn't the first time that the legislature has tried to reinstate control over teenagers' uteruses. Senator Padden sponsored a similar bill last session, but it failed. Padden’s still chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, however, so that means he can make sure anti-abortion bills get a hearing.

Senator Padden did not respond to requests for comment, but his legislative aide did pass along a single 1996 study that looked at how Medicaid restrictions on abortions affected minor abortion rates. While the study reported a 9 percent decrease in the abortion rate for minors, the subsequent analysis from the Guttmacher Institute showed that the study likely relied on incomplete data and ignored other factors.

Oh, and that one Democrat who's also sponsoring this bill? Senator James Hargrove (D-Hoquiam).