A Senate bill introduced Monday by state Senator Don Benton (R-Vancouver), ostensibly seeking to require teenagers to notify their parents at least 48 hours before seeking an abortion, would actually do much more than that: Closer reading of the bill shows it would repeal existing abortion laws, essentially banning all abortions in Washington State.
"This bill purports to be about parental notification but actually seeks to criminalize all abortions for all woman at any age by repealing the section of state law that makes abortions legal," explains Planned Parenthood Policy Director Jennifer Allen.
SB 5156 would completely repeal RCW 9.02.100, otherwise known as Washington's abortion law. The law was adopted by public vote in 1991 to shore up state law with the US Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade (so that if Roe were ever overturned, Washington women would still continue to have the same rights and protections. It states, among other things: "Every woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion."
The bill would also repeal in its entirety 9.02.110, "The state may not deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability of the fetus, or to protect her life or health."
Allen says that Planned Parenthood's legal team is still trying to suss out how, exactly, this bill's passage would affect women's access to abortion providers in Washington state, given that Roe is still the federal law of the land. Regardless, it's troubling: Washington voters have repeatedly confirmed women's right to make their own pregnancy decisions, beginning in 1970, when voters approved Referendum 20 and legalized abortion in the early months of pregnancy.
"We don't believe it's an accident," Allen says.
That means that at least 18 state senators are actively working to ban abortion against the repeated and well-documented will of Washington voters.
Let's be generous for a moment and assume that the bill's 18 co-sponsors—most of them white Republican men—somehow missed the fact that their bill makes all abortions in our state illegal, that's it is a mistake. (I have a call in to Senator Benton to ask him what the fuck he's thinking, but he hasn't yet gotten back to me.)
The bill is still very troubling.
It seeks to shame young, vulnerable women while throwing up road blocks for seeking abortions under the guise of government concern for "protecting family unity and preserving the family as a viable social unit." As its name suggests, the bill seeks to force physicians to give parental notification at least 48 hours before an un-emancipated woman (i.e. a minor or a woman under guardian supervision) can receive an abortion or face charges of a gross misdemeanor as well as the prospect of "civil action" from the girl's family.
"In our experience, most teens already involve parents in their pregnancy decisions," Allen says, and the ones who do not "don't have a parent that they can’t talk to about this, or come from abusive or violent situations. This bill puts the most vulnerable teens at risk during a crisis point in their lives."
And sure, there are provisions for a judicial waiver to allow teenagers to escape telling their parents about their planned abortions but what scared, pregnant teenager is going have the foresight to petition a judge for such a waver when she's in the midst of a personal crisis?
The bill also calls for a monthly report documenting how many 48-hour notices have been issued, as well as "the pregnant woman's age, the number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions of the pregnant woman" to be made available to the public. It doesn't matter that the patients' names "may not be used" on the forms; what this amounts to is an invasive level of questioning that seeks to publicly shame young women about their reproductive decisions and discourage them from having abortions.
In summation, this bill is totally fucked, and Senator Mike Padden (R-Spokane), a co-sponsor of the legislation and the newly-appointed chair of the Senate Committee on Law and Justice* has promised to give it a hearing in his committee. Thankfully, this legislation will never pass in the House, but that's not the point: The point is, we're not talking about a few Republican senators backing this batshit legislation, we're talking about most of them. We now have 18 senators in our state—16 of them Republican—actively trying to ban abortion against the will of Washington voters.
*Thanks once again to that fink, Rodney Tom.