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Seattle Times Op-Ed: Wash. State Must Fight To Keep 'Existing Women's Health Infrastructure'

Seattle Times Op-Ed: Wash. State Must Fight To Keep 'Existing Women's Health Infrastructure'

November 2, 2015 — In a Seattle Times opinion piece, columnist Thanh Tan notes that "[d]isturbing trends are creeping into" Washington state that run counter to its "famously pro-abortion-rights" history, particularly endangering low-income women's "basic rights to a full range of reproductive health options, including birth control and abortion."

Tan notes that the state "is doing some things right." For example, "more than 100,000 women and teens on Medicaid" since 2010 have "received some form of long-acting reversible contraception"; in 1991 the Reproductive Privacy Act was enacted, which provides a "'fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control'" or an abortion; and the state's "public schools teach comprehensive" sexuality education.

According to Tan, "these smart policies have helped lower statewide abortion and teen-pregnancy rates," with "birthrates for girls ages 15 to 17" declining by 70% since 1990.

However, Tan writes that "maintaining the existing women's health infrastructure is challenging." For example, she notes a "massive budget reduction" in 2014 that would have reduced access to family planning resources in Seattle and King County if "Planned Parenthood, local cities and private businesses" had not "stepped in to take over or keep some [family planning] clinics open for now," although "the county needs a long-term strategy." Further, she cites a study that found insurance companies on the state's insurance marketplace "gave secret shoppers inconsistent or false information on birth-control coverage," and she details a recent arson at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman.

Tan discusses how "this affect[s] real people," citing Sarah Prager -- an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and director of the University of Washington's Family Planning Division -- who noted that low-income "and uninsured women continue to struggle with access to comprehensive family-planning services." Tan also calls for restrictions on abortion coverage in "federal health benefits for military service members and Indian Health Service patients" to be lifted, "especially considering the high rates of sexual assault within these two vulnerable groups."

Further, Tan calls attention to an ongoing American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Skagit Regional Health Center, as well as ACLU's warnings to several other religiously affiliated public hospital districts, over their refusal to provide abortion care. According to Tan, the ACLU lawsuit cites noncompliance with RPA, which requires hospitals in the state that "provide pregnancy care ... [to] also offer abortion options." A hospital in Jefferson County is working toward compliance, Tan says, and she urges the others to follow suit (Tan, Seattle Times, 11/1).