Anti-abortion activists wearing pins that read, "I (Heart) Pregnancy Resource Centers" packed a House hearing room in Olympia this afternoon to testify in opposition to HB 1366, which would force pregnancy resource centers (also called limited service pregnancy centers) to inform women that they offer free over-the-counter pregnancy tests (and a healthy dose of religious guilt!) in lieu of actual, comprehensive medical services. Both sides were given equal time to testify (testimony ended after an hour), but opponents of the bill reportedly outnumbered proponents four to one.
Religious activists argued that the bill would put religious pregnancy centers (which are primarily privately funded) out of business by allowing women to press charges against centers in superior court for failing to inform them about the services that they don't provide—namely, information about birth control, or abortion referrals. (The bill would also allow women to press charges for not delivering pregnancy tests in a timely manner or provide accurate information to women who aren't native English speakers.) Opponents say the bill goes too far—and its penalties even farther. "These centers are staffed by volunteers—they’re not armed robbers or timber thieves," testified John Panesko, an estate lawyer from Chehalis, WA. "They don't belong in superior court. They’re the epitome of good Samaritans."
But women's rights advocates say the bill is necessary precisely because the centers are staffed by volunteers who can currently lie to women about the dangers of abortion and premarital sex and withhold pregnancy results—which women need in order to qualify for medical coupons or Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) programs in Washington.
*This post has been updated.
"I felt I was being held hostage," testified Jennifer Adams, a woman who found herself pregnant at age 30 and without health care coverage. Adams visited the CareNet Pregnancy Center in Tacoma to get a pregnancy test administered by a clinic in order to enroll in prenatal health care. Instead of a quick, easy test, Adams testified that the woman administering the pregnancy test was "judgmental, especially when she realized my partner and I were not married. She then asked me to read a Bible verse aloud and then said she wanted me to know how important abstinence is before marriage. I felt my joyous event was being marred by this course of events." In the end, the pregnancy center withheld Adams's pregnancy results from her. "They said sending those results out wasn’t their policy. My access to coverage for prenatal care was delayed. If this bill were in place, CareNet could not have withheld my pregnancy results."
Not only can these centers withhold health information from their clients, they're also not required to follow HIPAA guidelines for keeping medical information private (as clinics staffed by trained medical personnel are required to do) because they're primarily staffed by volunteers.
Other women testifying in favor of the bill said that young and low income women are particularly vulnerable to being trapped at these clinics. "The women I spoke to [who visited these clinics] all lacked health care insurance and lacked a healthcare provider," testified Sara Ainsworth, a senior lawyer with Legal Voice. "They were never told that the center didn’t provide abortion or birth control. Women reported being asked to wait from 20 to 40 minutes to an hour and a half for test results [for a three-minute test]. Some were told to wait 12 weeks and see if they miscarried before making a decision [about having an abortion]."