Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., March 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., March 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

State cementing its status as haven for abortion seekers, providers

Stockpiling of mifepristone and proposed laws lower costs and ensure access for patients, protect those who perform abortions

OLYMPIA — In the coming weeks, Washington will cement its status as a haven for those seeking abortions and those performing them with new laws to expand patient access and bolster provider protections.

The state is eliminating co-pays and deductible requirements for abortion, erasing a potential financial barrier to obtaining reproductive care and services.

It’s fortifying regulations to prevent release of private health data and blocking other states from disciplining doctors and nurses who provide reproductive health services and gender affirming care in line with Washington law.

It’s moving to shield those who come to Washington for care from punishment in their home state where the procedure may be outlawed. Law enforcement agencies here will be limited in their ability to cooperate with other states’ investigations.

And, finally, the state is set to distribute the abortion pill mifepristone, the most common method of terminating pregnancy in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the purchase last month of 30,000 doses, considered enough to cover demand for three years.

“I don’t know any state moving as quickly as we are on as many fronts as we are,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island. “I don’t know of any other state that is acting as swiftly, creatively and aggressively to protect reproductive rights in the wake of the Dobbs decision.”

That U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade came last year. Soon after, anti-abortion laws passed in several states.

In Washington, where a voter-approved initiative in 1991 put abortion rights into law, Democratic lawmakers have been laser-focused this session on strengthening abortion protections.

Purchase of mifepristone was the latest move in that direction.

Inslee ordered the stockpiling amid uncertainty on whether a federal lawsuit in Texas to end distribution of the abortion medication — now in front of the U.S. Supreme Court — would succeed.

He acted before a ruling in a separate federal lawsuit launched by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson with the aim of preserving access to mifepristone in this state and 17 others.

In that case, a federal judge has issued an injunction barring the Food and Drug Administration from “altering the status quo and rights as it relates to the availability of Mifepristone” in the states involved in the lawsuit.

“We are leading the nation in this fight,” Inslee said Thursday. “Mifespristone will remain available to women in the state of Washington.”

On Friday, the state Senate approved Senate Bill 5768 allowing the Department of Corrections to distribute the medication it bought with its pharmacy license. The bill passed on a party-line 28-18 vote and now goes to the House.

While Republicans opposed abortion-related bills this session, they said Friday their opposition centered on the process not the product. They said the governor could have come to the Legislature which is responsible for appropriating money and determining how its spent.

That didn’t happen. Republican senators offered amendments to try to make sure it does in the future. Democrats rejected them. GOP members also tried to require the department recoup its expenses. Democrats turned that down too.

The state paid $1.28 million for the doses. A fiscal note for the bill estimates the department will spend roughly $800,000 in each of the next three years on staffing and administration costs.

On the other side of the ledger, the analysis predicts the agency, if it sells 10,000 doses a year, will collect $475,000 in each of the next three fiscal years. That means this program could lead to a net loss of about $350,000 a year.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, the bill’s sponsor, said given the rapidly changing legal landscape, the governor did the right thing to protect the right of Washington residents to access abortion care.

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, disagreed.

“Are we now saying it’s okay for the governor on behalf of the state to purchase anything,” he said. “We should stick to the process.“

Meanwhile, four bills to broaden and strengthen abortion-related protections are at or on the way to Inslee’s desk for signing.

Senate Bill 5242 limits co-pays for abortions. State law requires health insurance companies cover abortion if they cover maternity care. This bill would bar a health carrier from imposing cost sharing for the procedure. It would apply to health plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2024, including health plans offered to public employees.

House Bill 1469, authored by Hansen, aims to counteract attempts by other states to impede or punish those who come to Washington in pursuit of reproductive health care services. It bars cooperation with other states’ investigations or warrants concerning provision of abortion and gender-affirming care services.

As written, the state Attorney General’s Office would keep a list of laws of other states that make it a crime to provide or receive protected health care services and make the list available to the Washington State Patrol.

House Bill 1155 deals with data privacy and contains specific provision protecting private information of patients seeking reproductive services. A March poll conducted by the Northwest Progressive Institute found 76% support for the legislation Ferguson requested.

House Bill 1340 makes clear health providers cannot be disciplined or have their license denied for “unprofessional conduct” for providing reproductive health services or gender affirming care as allowed in state law

The last scheduled day of session is April 23.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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