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Abortion bills take center stage in Olympia on Tuesday

Tom Banse/Northwest News Network

At least four bills were up for public testimony.

Abortion and women’s reproductive health care were among the major issues of the day in the Washington legislature on Tuesday.

At least four proposals were up for public testimony, including Senate Joint Resolution 8202, which seeks to enshrine a woman's right to reproductive freedom in the Washington state constitution.

In a hearing that lasted nearly two hours before the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, dozens of people testified about the controversial proposal – including Governor Jay Inslee.

Though reproductive rights are already afforded protections in state law, Inslee says he worries the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade could open the door to eroding those protections in Washington.

“I do not believe any legislator has the right to order any woman in the state of Washington to undergo a forced pregnancy. That is not consistent with the values of the state of Washington. That is not showing disrespect for the legislators of Washington, it is showing respect for the women of this state,” Inslee said.

A 1990 voter-approved initiative granted women a right to privacy in connection with personal reproductive decisions, but there are concerns that law could be overturned in the future.

Karen Cooper spoke in support of the proposed amendment. More than three decades ago, she worked with pro-choice group National Abortion Rights Action League to pass the original measure.

“It is very important to take the long-haul look. We don't know what's going to happen 30 years from now in Washington State, with the politics. We don't know who is going to be the governor and who will be in the legislature. I encourage you to vote for this,” she said.

Those opposed included Catholic bishop Frank Schuster, who reiterated the Church’s anti-abortion stance.

“Abortion is sadly already legal in Washington. A constitutional amendment is not needed,” he said. “The current law allows for abortion up to the point of viability. The amendment is attempting to enshrine the right for an abortion to be enshrined up to the birth of the baby. SJR 8202 is extreme, it is evil and unnecessary.”

Sen. Ann Rivers (R-LaCenter) says agreed a constitutional amendment would be extreme.

“I don't see any world in which Washington state changes course on this issue,” she said. “I would hope that we could all stop the fearmongering of women losing the right to choose, and move on to issues that are more pressing for the state like making sure people have adequate health care coverage.”

Sixteen Democratic senators have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

Passage of a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature as well as approval by a simple majority of voters.

Among the other bills heard Tuesday was a proposal that would protect Washington businesses targeted by lawsuits or other retaliatory actions in states where abortion is either prohibited or tightly regulated.

Rep. Liz Berry’s (D-Seattle) bill allows firms to recover costs and damages related to actions initiated in other states.

“While some states contemplate legislation that would prohibit or punish employers from doing the right thing by their employees, I urge you to support House Bill 1286 to ensure that Washington continues to lead in protecting access to all forms of reproductive health care, including abortion,” said Elsie Elling from Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates in a hearing before the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.

Another of the bill’s provisions would allow businesses that make charitable contributions to organizations that perform abortions to receive a credit on their state business and occupation taxes. Christina Callahan from Conservative Ladies of Washington says that’s unconstitutional because it gives preferential treatment to companies that provide support for abortion-related services.

“Would you be willing to give these same perks to businesses that donate to pregnancy resource centers that help mothers who choose life? If we are a pro-choice state, we should be allowing employees to make their own choice without trying to persuade them because it gives us a financial incentive to do so,” he said.

One other bill (SB 5242) to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Long Term Care Committee would forbid health care providers that do offer coverage of abortions from requiring patients to share part of the costs.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.