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Reproductive health and gender-affirming care get boost in Washington state

Washington state now protects patients seeking abortions and gender-affirming treatment — and health care providers giving the care — through laws that ensure access to mifepristone, enhance data privacy and eliminate cost-sharing for abortion services.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (CN) — Washington state Governor Jay Inslee signed five bills Thursday to ensure access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care, a move that aligns with his commitment to protect and expand reproductive rights throughout the U.S.

In February, Inslee joined 19 other U.S. governors in launching the Reproductive Freedom Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition launched to strengthen reproductive freedom after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022 and several states — including neighboring Idaho — outlawed abortion entirely.

Nearly two months later, the governor stuck to his word by signing five bills that would ensure open access to abortion services and gender-affirming care in Washington state. The suite of laws comes three weeks after Idaho Governor Bradley Little signed a law making it illegal for adults to assist minors in obtaining abortion medication or a lawful abortion out of state without their parent’s consent.

“The right of choice is an issue of freedom,” Inslee said in a statement. “Health care must remain the providence of individual Washingtonians. These laws will keep the tentacles of oppressive and overreaching states out of Washington.”

Senate Bill 5768 authorizes Washington’s Department of Corrections to provide health providers with the 30,000 doses of mifepristone that the governor acquired on April 4.

The three-year supply now held by the department arrived amid speculation that a Donald Trump-appointed judge in Texas would order the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revoke its approval of mifepristone. After he did so three days later, the Fifth Circuit intervened to keep the popular drug on the shelves nationwide but under limited circumstances. On April 21, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted the Fifth Circuit's restrictions.

When introducing the bill in early April, state Senator Karen Keiser — a Democrat from the Seattle area — said the state’s ongoing support for the right to reproductive freedom “means nothing without actual access to care.”

“For 10,000 women every year in our state, that right comes down to having access to mifepristone,” Keiser said. “We cannot allow an unelected judge in Texas to ignore more than two decades of evidence and deny Washingtonians a safe, effective medication for their reproductive choice.”

Senate Bill 5242 furthers patient access to abortion services by doing away with private insurance co-pays and deductibles for treatment. In a statement Thursday, state Senator Annette Cleveland — the bill sponsor and a Democrat from Vancouver — described the law as a historic for making reproductive care more accessible, equitable and fair.

“Nobody should be unable to receive the care they need simply because of their inability to pay,” Cleveland said.

House Bill 1469 is a shield law that allows in-state and out-of-state patients to access abortion and gender-affirming treatment in Washington without fear of investigations, subpoenas or extraditions from states that have otherwise banned these services.

The new law introduced by Representative Drew Hanson — a Democrat from Bainbridge Island — also protects abortion and gender-affirming health care providers from harassment by allowing them to request a newly designated address. Meanwhile, House Bill 1340 — sponsored by Representative Marcus Riccelli, a Democrat out of Spokane — also protects providers by ensuring they cannot be disciplined or delicensed for providing such services following Washington law.

And House Bill 1155, the “My Health, My Data” Act, strengthens protections of residents’ health data by requiring additional disclosures and consumer consent, allowing patients to have their health data deleted, prohibiting the sale of health care data without consumer consent and banning the use geofences around health care facilities — using one’s IP address, GPS and cellular network data to deliver targeted marketing.

The law by Representative Vandana Slatter — a Democrat from the Seattle area — also allows consumers and the state’s attorney general to sue organizations that use their data without consent.

“Websites, apps and health tracking devices lack the basic protections we’ve come to expect when sharing our personal health data,” Slatter said in a statement following the bill’s passage in the Legislature. “There is no way to consent or even know about it. We must protect the data of Washingtonians and all who travel here. Without a federal policy, this is where we are and the first in the nation bill we need. I’m glad my colleagues and the attorney general are choosing to rise to the occasion in protecting people’s right to privacy, personal agency and safe medical care.”

But not all lawmakers are thrilled with the new laws. Following Inslee’s signing ceremony on Thursday, Representative Jim Walsh — a Republican representing southwestern Washington — took to Twitter to call the bills “anti-family.”

“These policies are anti-family. They drive wedges between vulnerable children and their parents,” Walsh tweeted. “Pedophiles and pimps exploit bad policies like these to prey on children. The establishment Left ignores that ugly truth. And blames parents for the exploitation.”

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Categories / Government, Health, Regional

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