After holding a public hearing before a packed room Monday, Senate Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, announced she would not schedule a vote for the Reproductive Parity Act, the most controversial social issue of the session that also happens to have the public support of 25 of 49 state senators (including moderate Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs and two members of the Majority Coalition Caucus, state Sens. Rodney Tom and Steve Litzow).
That one-vote edge would be just enough to get HB 1044 to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, but anti-abortion lawmakers (including Democratic senators Jim Hargrove and Tim Sheldon) are blocking it in a state that has long supported a woman’s right to privacy.
Becker’s decision on this matter risks alienating those who already associate the GOP with “anti-woman” sentiments. Members of the Majority Coalition Caucus are digging a political hole for themselves. The many Washingtonians who support reproductive rights are vocal — and they will not forget this episode.
Watch public testimony from Monday’s hearing in the video below, courtesy of TVW:
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For the record, I really like the concept of power-sharing in the Senate. I want the MCC to succeed. I just happen to disagree with most of their members on this abortion rights issue. We should protect the status quo when it works. I’ll explain more below.
Here’s our editorial calling for public action before Wednesday’s cut-off deadline:
State lawmakers do not need to complicate this issue. House Bill 1044 would maintain insurance coverage for women seeking abortions after federal health reforms take effect.
Insurance providers need clarity and predictability.
So do those women who make this private decision in consultation with their doctors.
If the five Republican members on the Health Care panel oppose the merits of House Bill 1044, then what’s wrong with giving it a public vote and a thumbs down? Or moving it to the floor without a recommendation? Here’s Becker’s statement sent out Monday afternoon announcing her decision:
The fact is that at this point, House Bill 1044 is a solution in search of a problem. Even advocates of the bill admit that there is no need for the bill today as every health insurer in the state of Washington provides for abortion coverage. As such, the decision of the committee is that the bill will not move forward from here this year.
Don’t be fooled. This isn’t the decision of the committee. It’s Becker’s. She should own it.
Here’s an emailed response to Becker’s remarks from Jennifer Allen, public policy director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.
Regarding Senator Becker’s concern that there’s no need for the bill today, of course there is not, but we all know this bill is intended to prevent Washington women from losing the freedom and privacy they have in their health decisions today in the changing landscape ahead of us as health reform is fully implemented. And while the bill clearly would not violate federal funding standards as it echoes the same conscience clause language we have elsewhere in Washington law today, those who are concerned about that issue will be comforted to hear that the bill also specifically provides that it wouldn’t be applied in any instance in which it were to jeopardize public funds.
At this point, state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, the Health Care Committee’s ranking member, says it would take a political miracle to get a measure to the floor through the committee process. Indeed, Becker cancelled the panel’s regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting.
But I hear there’s another saying in Olympia: “It’s not over till it’s over.” In other words, don’t underestimate the passions behind the Reproductive Parity Act. Lawmakers will likely find a way to bring it up again during last minute negotiations on the Senate floor.
Remember, Washington has a robust history of supporting a woman’s right to choose. Our state voted to legalize abortion three years before Roe vs. Wade. (Here’s my blog post on the 40th anniversary of the ruling.) Though federal rules restrict the funding of elective abortions, voters passed Initiative 120 in 1991 that allowed state funding to help poor women access the procedure. Passage of the RPA would be nowhere near as revolutionary as those two previous actions.
Prior to Monday’s editorial, The Seattle Times called for passage of the Reproductive Parity Act in three previous editorials you can read here, here and here. Here’s my archived post on the House hearing earlier this year, too.
Take a look at the graph below by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank. Nationwide, states have been rolling back the clock by chipping away at abortion rights by creating unnecessary legal roadblocks for women. Washington should continue to head in the opposite direction.