OLYMPIA — After facing criticism that a bill purporting to mandate parental notification for minors seeking abortions would also place long-existing abortion rights in the state at risk, Republican lawmakers on Monday introduced revisions narrowing the bill’s scope.
In its original form, Senate Bill 5156 would have repealed two laws passed by voter initiative in 1991 codifying in state law that women have the right to seek abortions and that doctors have the right to perform them.
By extension, the bill would have made doctors performing abortions in the state guilty of a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, in the event that federal laws allowing abortion are reversed.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, a bill sponsor, said that the state’s code-revisers office, a nonpartisan body that helps draft and review bills to make sure they are consistent with existing statutes, recommended that the two laws be repealed to avoid any possible conflict with a new definition of abortion contained in the bill.
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That definition, which Padden described as “broader and more-up-to date” than the state’s current one, explicitly included the use of any drug, substance or device with the intent to end a pregnancy and “with reasonable likelihood cause the death of the unborn child.”
In the revised version of the bill, both the new definition of abortion and the repeal of existing law are eliminated.
In an email to Padden, Code Reviser K. Kyle Thiessen said repealing one of the laws would have recast a third law to criminalize doctors performing abortions.
Thiessen wrote “nothing in your bill request shows any intent to expand the criminal penalty” for performers of abortion.
The bill’s doing so “was an unintentional drafting error,” he added.
Padden said that it was never his plan that the bill do anything more than require pregnant minors to consult with a parent before being eligible for an abortion.
“It’s unfortunate there was a drafting error, but it’s been corrected and it’s part of the legislative process,” Padden said.
The bill will receive a public hearing in the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee, chaired by Padden, on Feb. 6.
Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said the requirement for parental notifications for abortions are not helpful to pregnant teens in crisis.
She also expressed skepticism that the overreaching language of the original bill originated with the code reviser.
“That seems like a pretty big drafting error to me,” Rose said.