This summer the Supreme Court will likely gut Roe v Wade, which will pull the trigger on a bunch of state laws across the country that limit or outright ban abortion access. Clinics will close in states without protections, forcing pregnant people who want to terminate their pregnancies to travel across state lines or to self-medicate with abortion pills, as most of them did in Texas at the end of last year.
If the Court ends up allowing for a total ban, the Guttmacher Institute predicts a 385% increase in the number of "women of reproductive age" from nearby states who would see Washington as the closest place to get an abortion.
We could start seeing a surge in people seeking care here in short order. Idaho's narrower version of Texas' abortion bounty law passed the Senate last week, and the state already passed a trigger law to ban virtually all abortions 30 days after SCOTUS fully overturns Roe and Casey.
To help manage the expected influx and to shore up abortion protections in Washington, on Monday the State House signed off on minor (but important) changes the Senate made to House Bill 1851, but the whole process did not go without completely unfounded histrionics from Republicans, some of which I could see them repeating ad nauseam during the 2022 election cycle.
“When HB 1851 is signed into law by Governor Inslee, it means Washington will keep doing our part in the national fight to protect access. As access to abortion is potentially removed for millions of patients, we will be here to take them in," said Courtney Normand, Washington state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocate.
The bill accomplishes all that by doing a few things: Codifying a couple opinions from Washington Attorneys General that allow medical practitioners with the relevant training to perform abortions, replacing gendered language with gender-neutral language, and prohibiting the state from criminalizing someone for managing their own abortion.
Though the two opinions from Democratic Attorneys General (one 2004 opinion from Christine Gregoire, and one 2019 opinion from Bob Ferguson) authorize property licensed Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNP) and Physician Assistants (PA) to perform abortions, they're only opinions. Cementing those opinions into state statute would add a sense of security for qualified PAs and ARNPs who want to provide abortions but who feel nervous about doing so without the full force of state law behind them. Advocates hope that sense of security might spur more of the state's ~10,000 PAs and ARNPs to step up and help address the coming surge.
The need for more providers, as Megan Burbank reported for Crosscut, looks particularly intense east of the mountains, "where there are only five abortion clinics, all operated by Planned Parenthood, and where clinicians already routinely see out-of-state patients."
As a matter of course, Republicans on the Senate floor wasted a bunch of time flipping shit about all of this. Rather than openly admitting her disbelief in the existence of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people, Republican Senator Judy Warnick expressed lots of "confusion" over the need to use gender-neutral language in the bill, but most of the "debate" centered on credentials and on that liability issue.
On the former issue, Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato led the way, twice suggesting that the bill allowed janitors to perform abortions. "What is a health care provider? Is that, could that be the janitor in a hospital?" he said during discussion of an amendment. In his remarks on the bill's final passage, he invented an edge case, expressed confusion over the definition of health care provider, and again said, "Is that the janitor that cleans up in a hospital?"
Expect to hear "this year Democrats in Olympia passed a bill to let janitors do abortions!!!" on the campaign trail, even though it's not true. The bill authorizes "a physician, physician assistant, advanced registered nurse practitioner, or other health care provider acting within the provider's scope of practice" to provide abortions. The bill defines "health care provider" as a "person regulated under Title 18 RCW to practice health or health-related services or otherwise practicing health care services in this state consistent with state law," which does not include janitors.
Republicans also freaked out about the section of the bill that prevents the state from criminalizing people for ending their own pregnancies, or from criminalizing people who aid or assist a pregnant person "exercising their right to reproductive freedom with their voluntary consent." Practically, this section essentially shields people from lawsuits when they take an abortion pill without medical supervision or help secure an abortion pill for a pregnant person who wants one.
Though Washington doesn't currently criminalize people for terminating their own pregnancies, that doesn't stop people from trying. Just last year, cops in Spokane obtained a warrant to investigate a woman for potential "criminal mistreatment of a child" after she had a miscarriage in a hotel. Though the cops never filed criminal charges, a lawyer for the nonprofit IfWhenHow told the outlet "she could not find any reason to suspect a crime in the warrant filed in Spokane County Superior Court." Passing a law to stop people from even trying that kinda shit seems like the least we could do given the current makeup of the nation's highest Court.
In what's shaping up to be a not-so-stellar session for progressive policy, HB 1851 looks like one of the good and urgently needed bills Democrats pushed through this year despite much bleating and gnashing of teeth from the other side.