Mar 6, 2023 - Politics

Bills aim to protect abortion patients who travel to Washington

Illustration of a health cross-shaped cloud, with a small plane flying by.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Lawmakers in Washington state are advancing measures to protect patients who travel here for abortions, and to stop other states from obtaining people's health data from period-tracking apps.

Why it matters: As other states pass laws that criminalize and restrict abortion, legislators and the state attorney general fear doctors and patients in Washington could become vulnerable to lawsuits or prosecution.

What they're saying: "We will use every tool we have to protect abortion rights in Washington state from the reach of anti-abortion laws in Texas and elsewhere," state Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island) said during a House floor debate last week.

Details: A bill of Hansen's that passed the state House last week would block out-of-state subpoenas for information about abortions performed in Washington.

  • That legislation would also prevent law enforcement officers in Washington from aiding other states' investigations into abortion care provided in Washington.
  • The bill would safeguard information about gender-affirming care provided in Washington, too.

The other side: On the House floor, state Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) said he's concerned that if Hansen's bill passes, other states might engage in "tit for tat," in which they don't respond to subpoenas or requests to aid in police investigations in Washington state.

  • Walsh added he thinks that Hansen's proposal would be needlessly divisive, given that abortion rights are already protected in Washington through a voter-approved law.

A separate bill would prevent third-party health apps — such as those that track periods and ovulation — from sharing their information without users' consent.

  • In a press release announcing the legislation, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office said the goal is to prevent that data from being used to prosecute women who have an abortion or miscarriage.
  • State Rep. Vandana Slatter (D-Bellevue), the bill sponsor, said the protections are badly needed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, a third measure aims to prevent doctors from facing disciplinary consequences in Washington if they provide abortion care in violation of other states' restrictive laws.

What's next: To become law, the bills still must pass both chambers of Washington's Legislature. The legislative session is scheduled to run through late April.

Of note: A push to insert protections for abortion into the state constitution is less likely to advance in the Legislature.

  • That's because amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, and Democrats' majorities aren't that strong.
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