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Originally published Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: State should protect women’s health, 40 years after Roe v. Wade

Washington state was head of the country in protecting a woman’s ability to make her own medical decisions in 1970, and can again serve as a beacon by passing the Reproductive Parity Act, writes guest columnist Christine Charbonneau.

Special to The Times

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THE U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the historic Roe v. Wade decision 40 years ago this month. This landmark ruling affirmed that the constitutionally protected right to privacy includes every woman’s ability to make her own medical decisions, without interference by politicians. Four decades later, a majority of Americans still agree with the high court: Personal health decisions should be left up to a woman.

Washington has been ahead of the rest of the nation in protecting women’s reproductive rights. But protecting women’s health, even four decades later, takes vigilance and a new generation of activists who understand what’s at stake.

Just this week a bill requiring parental notification for abortion was introduced in the state Senate. At Planned Parenthood we know most teens already involve parents in their pregnancy decisions, but some young women live in a home where disclosing a pregnancy would put them at risk. We all want our daughters to talk to us, but if they can’t, we still want them to be safe.

Instead of interfering with teens’ ability to make their own reproductive-health decisions, the Legislature should focus on reflecting Washington’s values and strengthening the tenets of Roe by increasing access to reproductive health.

Washington was one of four states to legalize abortion before the Roe decision and the first to do so by a vote of the people, approving Referendum 20 on Nov. 3, 1970. In 1991, Washington voters again voted for privacy and freedom as well as fairness in abortion rights by passing Initiative 120 to codify the Roe v. Wade decision into state law and grant low-income women equal access to the pregnancy options available to other women.

We are fortunate to live in a state that values progressive and compassionate health policy for women. That’s not true everywhere.

Since 2011, there were 135 abortion restrictions passed in other states, such as requiring women seeking abortion care to undergo invasive ultrasound procedures or imposing stringent regulations on abortion providers that are not required for other health care. Not one progressive piece of legislation on reproductive health passed in any state in 2012.

In 2013, Washington has the opportunity to be a beacon of hope for women around the country with regard to abortion coverage in health-care insurance. The Reproductive Parity Act, SB 5009 and HB 1044, ensures that women have the privacy and freedom to make pregnancy decisions that are best for themselves and their families.

This leaves women’s health-care decisions where they should be — with women, not with politicians, insurance carriers or employers. It’s unfortunate that we need this legislation, but unless we act now, women who currently have coverage for abortion will likely lose that coverage as health-care reform is implemented. It’s simple. If insurance plans sold in Washington cover maternity care, they must also cover safe and legal abortion.

The time to act on the Reproductive Parity Act is now. Women in Washington are counting on their new health coverage to help with costs in these tough economic times. Coverage for abortion care is no exception. This is not just a social issue, it’s an issue of basic freedom and privacy for half the population, and it’s a pocketbook issue for women who should not have to pay more than men for health care.

At Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, we work every day to reduce unintended pregnancies and keep women healthy. We ensure that a woman has accurate information about all her pregnancy options including parenting, adoption or abortion. And then we leave pregnancy decisions where they belong: with a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor or health-care provider.

Christine Charbonneau is CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

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