Bill seeks to clarify Washington pregnancy-center services
A bill related to Washington's limited service pregnancy centers appears poised to reach the House floor in the coming weeks, forcing lawmakers to tackle a hot-button issue in the midst of already contentious budget negotiations.
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A bill related to Washington's limited-service pregnancy centers appears poised to reach the House floor in the coming weeks, forcing lawmakers to tackle a hot-button issue in the midst of already contentious budget negotiations.
The bill would require centers to notify patients upfront of the services they do not provide, including abortions, abortion referrals and comprehensive birth control. Violators could face a court-ordered injunction.
The bill, HB 1366, is in the House Rules Committee, but supporters say they are confident it will receive a floor vote before a March 7 deadline.
"I would imagine it will happen fairly soon," Rep. Judy Clibborn, the bill's main sponsor, said.
Limited-service pregnancy centers, which are not licensed medical facilities, offer services such as ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, often for free. Many are run by groups that openly oppose abortion.
According to the bill, some centers have reportedly "misled people about the nature of their services and have withheld health-care records, including the results of pregnancy tests, from individuals seeking services."
"Real women are being harmed by lack of information and lack of access to pregnancy information, which can delay a woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy or her access to prenatal care," said Melanie Smith, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, which supports the bill.
NARAL estimates there are at least 46 pregnancy centers throughout the state.
In addition to disclosing the services they offer, both verbally and in writing, centers would be required to inform patients of results immediately after pregnancy tests.
Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said there would never be a "perfect time" to take up controversial legislation, but that she was trying to address a pressing health concern.
Critics say Washington cannot afford to jeopardize a service that provides a safety net to women in need, as well as free health care to the state. Washington is facing an estimated $5 billion deficit in the next two-year budget.
"While Washington taxpayers foot the bill, it's women who will ultimately pay the price," said Melinda Delahoyde, executive director of Care Net, a nationwide Christian pregnancy-center network that offers counseling on alternatives to abortion. "Targeting these centers flies in the face of common sense."
Care Net's 38 affiliated centers in Washington provide an estimated $18.6 million worth of free services to women each year, Delahoyde said.
Opponents also say the bill places undue burden on private businesses.
"I'm really concerned we're going down this road to try to regulate private industry," Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said during the measure's Feb. 10 hearing in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.
But supporters insist they aren't trying to put the centers out of business or suppress their message.
"There's no requirement in the bill for them to change the information they do give to women; they can choose to say whatever they want about terminating a pregnancy," said Lauren Simonds, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. "We just want women to know what they're not going to get at these centers, so they will not be deceived."
Clibborn described her bill as a straightforward regulatory measure that deals with disclosure requirements — the kind of legislation she and her colleagues see frequently.
"The only reason it's getting so much attention is because it's based on services to pregnant women," she said.
The Legislature's Democratic leadership recently decided to shelve a nearly identical Senate bill and focus instead on advancing the House version — a relatively common practice as legislative deadlines approach, said Jeff Reading, communications director for the Senate Democrats.
In a Feb. 11 briefing with reporters, Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, predicted the bill would make a splash if it comes before the full House.
"It will certainly generate a very heated floor debate," he said.
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