by Megan Burbank
On Monday, Aug. 29, Dr. Kim Schrier, who represents Washington’s 8th District in the House of Representatives, announced a new bill intended to protect abortion providers amid restrictions introduced nationwide since the June 24 reversal of Roe v. Wade. She made the announcement at a roundtable discussion on abortion rights held at Tacoma’s People’s Community Center, cohosted by Schrier, U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Marilyn Strickland, and Planned Parenthood.
The Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act would introduce protections for doctors who perform abortions, even as abortion-hostile state legislatures impose abortion bans and criminal penalties across the country. Schrier introduced the legislation in the House alongside two colleagues: Reps. Ami Bera and Raul Ruiz, both of California. Like Schrier, Bera and Ruiz are doctors who support abortion rights. Sen. Patty Murray has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Both bills are currently in committee.
“If, when, and under what circumstances to become a mother is the most important decision a woman will make, and as the only pro-choice woman doctor in Congress, I will continue to do everything I can to protect women’s access to safe abortion,” said Schrier of the proposed policy. “That includes protecting abortion providers.”
The proposed legislation would create federal protections for abortion providers and set aside resources for legal assistance and privacy upgrades.
The bill comes in response to abortion bans across the country that have introduced legal ambiguity for physicians who provide abortions and other essential reproductive health care services, like miscarriage management. “State legislatures across the country are using every tactic possible to restrict access to abortion, including targeting doctors,” said Schrier. “Doctors should not have their hands tied or fear criminal penalties, loss of licensure, or loss of insurance coverage if they provide abortion care. This bill would preserve doctors’ ability to perform this important medical procedure and ensure patients and their doctors are the ones making personal medical decisions — not the government.”
The Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act would address these concerns through Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services grant programs, which would provide legal assistance and data privacy support for reproductive health care service providers. The bill would also shield providers in states where abortion remains legal from laws that would disrupt their work “or make them liable for providing those services to patients from any other state.”
It would also prevent liability insurance coverage from being denied to abortion providers and keep federal funds from being used in efforts to prosecute abortion providers or people seeking abortions in states where abortion is still legal.
This is of particular concern in a state like Washington, where abortion remains legal and where Attorney General Bob Ferguson has dedicated a team to exploring the legal ramifications of Roe’s reversal.
Murray spoke to the issue when she and cosponsors Sens. Ben Ray Luján (a Democrat from New Mexico), Alex Padilla (a Democrat from California), and Jacky Rosen (a Democrat from Nevada) introduced the Senate version of the bill earlier in August.
“No doctor should ever be punished for caring for patients and providing legal abortion care, but that’s exactly what extreme Republicans are doing across the country, and that is the terrible reality that we are living in right now,” she said at the time. “Republican state lawmakers are drafting legislation that would make it a crime to provide abortion care to a resident even in another state where it is legal. That means doctors in my home state of Washington who are just doing their jobs, who are providing the care their patients need — care that is legal, by the way — could face lawsuits that threaten their practices and their livelihoods.”
The attacks also extend to cases like that of Indiana doctor Caitlin Bernard, said Murray. Bernard was investigated by her state’s attorney general after providing medication abortion to a 10-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted, in a story originally reported by the Indianapolis Star. Some conservative news outlets — and even The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column — suggested the story was a fabrication, in part because Bernard declined to share identifying details about her patient with a reporter, which isn’t unusual behavior for a physician — or for someone close to a case involving sexual assault.
“It is just the latest in the parade of atrocities caused by Republicans’ extremism,” said Murray. “And I want to be very clear, while Dr. Bernard’s story may be in headlines today across the country, she is not the only doctor facing threats and she will not be the last.”
Megan Burbank is a writer and editor based in Seattle. Before going full-time freelance, she worked as an editor and reporter at the Portland Mercury and The Seattle Times. She specializes in enterprise reporting on reproductive health policy, and stories at the nexus of gender, politics, and culture.
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!