Photo depicting a group of protestors, mostly women and female-presenting of various ethnic backgrounds, marching while holding up red protest signs with varying white text that reads, "You can't have capitalism without sexism"; "Stand up for abortion & LGBTQ rights"; "Join the Socialist Feminist Resistance"; and "Roe v. Wade"

OPINION | The Legislative Session Is Over. Here’s How Washington Lawmakers Strengthened Abortion Rights

by Megan Burbank

The reversal of Roe v. Wade last summer catalyzed major electoral wins for Democrats nationwide and brought a slate of bills protecting abortion access to the Washington State Legislature. But at the time, it wasn’t clear the momentum would last — or translate to meaningful, sustainable change. Now that this year’s legislative session has wrapped, with Gov. Jay Inslee signing off on a slate of new protections for reproductive health, we have a better idea of what’s in store. Here are the policies that made it to the governor’s desk and what they mean for the future of abortion rights and gender-affirming care in the Northwest.

The ‘My Health, My Data Act’

Whether it’s private messages between a mother and daughter on Facebook Messenger or texts among friends, we’re living in an odd new reality where a person’s digital trail can be used against them in an abortion prosecution. This law, HB 1152, broadens consumer protections related to the sale, distribution, and collection of private consumer health data, and applies to apps, websites, and organizations that may have access to such information but aren’t bound by HIPAA, as medical providers are.

Medical Licensing Protections for Providers

Since losing the legal backstop of Roe, abortion-hostile state legislatures have become alarmingly creative about restricting and punishing abortion, whether it’s Idaho’s “abortion trafficking” law, which outlaws something that isn’t real, or copycat bills modeled on Texas’ SB 8, which deputizes private citizens to sue in cases where they suspect someone has facilitated an abortion. It’s not a stretch to suggest that medical licensing boards might use their authority to retaliate against providers who perform abortions or offer gender-affirming care. HB 1340 protects health care providers in Washington from such disciplinary action targeting the provision of abortion or gender-affirming care.

No Cost-Sharing for Abortion

Even if you live in Washington, and even if you have private insurance, getting an abortion can come with unexpected costs if you have to pay a patient responsibility, known as a copay. SB 5242 heads this barrier off at the pass by eliminating cost-sharing for abortions. What this doesn’t mean: Abortion care will be free for everyone. What it does mean: If you have private insurance and a lower-deductible plan, you should have full coverage for an abortion should you need one.

Abortion Pill Distribution

At a news conference in early April, Gov. Inslee shared the news that the state had procured a three years’ supply of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortion. Why mifepristone? It’s the drug at the center of a Texas lawsuit in which a group of anti-abortion activists argued that its FDA approval should be revoked. (This, for the record, isn’t a claim rooted in reality: Mifepristone, while heavily restricted by a rare FDA regulation, is safe and effective, with a lower rate of complications than Viagra and some dental procedures.) Given the uncertainty of the drug’s future — the Supreme Court decided it should remain available as the case makes its way through the legal system — the state stockpiled 30,000 doses of the drug. The purchase was made through the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC), which has a pharmacy license. SB 5768 authorizes the DOC to distribute this supply of mifepristone, which was delivered to the state in March.

Shield Law

After Roe v. Wade was overturned, 24 states enacted near-total abortion bans or restrictions based on gestational limits, severely curtailing access, or have state leaders who’ve signaled they’ll likely ban abortion in the future. Texas led the charge, implementing a policy criminalizing facilitating abortion even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, but many states now treat abortion as a crime. Washington’s Shield Law protects abortion providers and patients from being prosecuted by these states, and prevents Washington authorities from participating in efforts to investigate and prosecute people seeking or facilitating care. Importantly, this law also applies to providers of gender-affirming care, which, like abortion, has been at the center of numerous attacks nationwide. Policies banning gender-affirming care resemble abortion bans in the way they work and the communities they impact, and the overlap between the two in the Shield Law speaks to this ongoing nexus between transphobia-as-public-policy and efforts to punish people for their pregnancy outcomes — something we’re only likely to see more of in the coming months and years. That’s just one more reason proactive policies like these are so important.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

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.

📸 Featured Image: Protesters gather in the hours after a draft opinion revealed the Supreme Court voted to overturn abortion. (Photo: Maile Anderson)

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