OLYMPIA — A hearing on a bill that would require minors to notify their parents before terminating a pregnancy pitted those who argued it was an issue of parental rights against those who say the measure is an effort to restrict access to abortion.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee was packed Wednesday with supporters and opponents of Senate Bill 5156, which would deny a pregnant minor an abortion unless she had given at least 48-hours’ notice to one parent or a legal guardian. A pregnant teen could petition a superior court for a waiver of the notice requirement.
“This bill is not trying to stop abortions,” Sen. Don Benton, a Republican from Vancouver who sponsored the measure, told the committee. “What this bill is about is notifying parents of their children’s activities before they engage in them. It’s a common-sense right.”
Under the measure, anyone who performs an abortion on a minor without proper notification is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. No notice is required if there is a medical emergency.
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Diana Roberts, a grandmother from Vancouver, told lawmakers that she opposed the bill because she believes that while teen communication with parents would be ideal, “it does not help to legislate that they talk to a judge.”
“I understand the desire of parents to be involved,” she said. “This law cannot improve parent-teen communication, but it will endanger teens who try to circumvent it.”
According to The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive-health issues, 38 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion. More than 20 states require parental consent. Twelve others require parental notification only, and five require both official notification and consent.
Elizabeth Nash, a state issues manager for the institute, said several other states are considering parental-notification bills, including Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico and New York.
Vincent Dhanens, a father of four daughters from Olympia, told lawmakers that his children can’t go on a field trip, get their ears pierced or get a tattoo without permission from him or his wife.
“I can’t imagine why it isn’t important for us to be involved in a life-altering decision,” he said. “Why wouldn’t the state want us to talk to them about abortion? Because a child does not want to talk to their parents doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.”
Dr. Yolanda Evans, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s hospital who is opposed to the measure, said that most of the teens she sees with unintended pregnancies have the support of their parents.
Evans said she worries that, if required to notify parents, teens would try to find other dangerous means to end their pregnancies.
“I’m here to be a voice for my patients, not the ones who have parental support, but those vulnerable ones who don’t,” she said.
Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican from Spokane Valley, said he believed he had the votes to get the measure through committee. Beyond that, he said he couldn’t predict whether the bill would get a Senate floor vote. Even if the bill were to pass out of the Senate, it is certain to lose traction in the Democratic-controlled House. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Friday Harbor, said the bill would have a chilling effect on teens seeking abortions.
“If this legislation were to pass, what we’ll see is more unsafe abortions and more teen pregnancies,” he said. “That is not a positive outcome.”
Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democratic leader of the Republican-dominated majority-coalition caucus, said that while he’s personally opposed to the bill, he supported the measure receiving a public hearing.
The hearing comes days before the same committee was supposed to hold a public hearing on a bill that would require insurers who provide maternity care, which is required in Washington state, to also to pay for abortions.
Padden announced earlier in the week that he would hold a hearing on the bill, but the hearing was removed from the schedule minutes after the conclusion of the hearing on parental notification. Padden didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.