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Feeling lucky to live in Washington State. . .for now.

Since the beginning of this year a record number of anti-abortion bills have been introduced in state governments.  The laws range from banning abortion outright to putting up many barriers to abortion care that do nothing to improve the actual care that is being delivered.  Many of the bills have not passed but over the past few weeks some very destructive bills have passed in other states.

Kansas has passed a law requiring that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment write “new facility standards” for abortion clinics.  These standards were finalized by the Department of Health and Environment on June 17th.  This was the date on which they told the clinics in Kansas that they must be able to meet all of the requirements by July 1st.  The new standards regulate the temperature of the clinic, the temperature of the recovery room, the amount of time a woman must spend in the recovery room after her procedure, the size of the operating room, the size of the janitor’s closet, the features of the staff dressing room, the features of the patient dressing rooms, the number of bathrooms, etc.  While claiming that these rules are to improve the health and safety of the women having abortions, as one who has been doing abortions for 20 years, I can tell you that these rules will not make an already very safe procedure any safer.  If that were really the goal, the Department of Health and Environment would have given a reasonable amount of time for the clinics to meet a more reasonable set of regulations.  What also makes it clear that this 36-page set of regulations is just to stop abortions is that there are 241 ambulatory surgical centers in the state but only the three clinics that do abortions are subject to the new regulations.

Luckily, last Friday a judge blocked enforcement of the new rules until they can be fully challenged in court.  So for now a Kansas woman’s access to abortion remains the same.

In Ohio last week the House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing abortion after the embryo has a heartbeat.  A very rudimentary heart begins to beat, and can be seen on ultrasound, somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.  This correlates with about 1½ weeks after a woman misses her period.  This is also often before a woman has any symptoms of pregnancy.  A law, which again, makes abortion virtually impossible for a woman to attain.  Especially if one takes into account that in Ohio there is a law requiring a 24-hour waiting period.  The woman must go into the clinic and have her counseling/informed consent session with the doctor at least 24 hours before she actually has her abortion.  When the state is giving you only 7 to 10 days after a missed period to realize that you are pregnant, make a decision about the outcome of that pregnancy, find the money to pay for the abortion (because Ohio does not have public funding for abortion, or allow abortion coverage in the new state insurance exchange), perhaps arrange a ride to the clinic each day, arrange for childcare or coverage at work, taking away one of those valuable days for a 24-hour waiting period makes it all an even tighter timeline.

And these are just the most recent assaults on a woman’s ability to have a legal medical procedure.  According the NARAL Pro-Choice America, there have been three times as many anti-choice state bills this year as there were last year.  And this year the states have actually enacted 44% more bills this year than they did during the entire year of 2010.

And this is why I feel very lucky to live in Washington State.  At this point we have no laws such as these being passed in other states.  We don’t have extreme informed consent laws which require women to hear government-mandated lies about the risks of abortion (other states make the doctor tell the patient that this abortion will increase her risk of breast cancer or psychological problems in the future; both of which have been proven to be false by good scientific research), we don’t have a required waiting period between counseling and the abortion (we know that women have been thinking hard about their decision from the time they learn they are pregnant until they walk in our doors and they don’t need the state to tell them when they are ready to make a decision), we don’t have parental consent laws requiring a minor to involve one or both of her parents in her decision (we know that most minors do involve their parents and that laws forcing children to involve their parents lead to delays in care and to children sometimes taking matters into their own hands changing a very safe procedure into a dangerous situation).  In addition we in Washington State have public funding for abortion because we know that just because a woman can’t afford to have an abortion shouldn’t mean she has to have a baby.

But, we all know all of this could change with the next election.  That is why it is so important to know that even while the right to have an abortion has felt so secure for so many years keeping Washington State’s laws as women-friendly as they are is imperative.  Or we might end up like Kansas or Ohio, where we have the right to an abortion but don’t have the means to access one.

Deborah Oyer, MD

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