|2/20/2011 3:33:00 PM|
Washington pregnancy aid centers feel threat of proposed legislation
The Washington State Catholic Conference and other pro-life groups are fighting proposed legislation they say compromises the rights of pregnancy resource centers in their state.
Catholic Sentinel photo
Terry Brand of Birthright in Salem: Her peers in Washington are facing legislation that could endanger their existence.
|House Bill 1366-Washington Legislature|
|State of Washington 62nd Legislature 2011 Regular Session|
By Representatives Clibborn, Walsh, Appleton, Goodman, Darneille,
Moeller, Green, Carlyle, Fitzgibbon, Frockt, Reykdal, Roberts,
Jinkins, Pettigrew, Cody, Pedersen, Van De Wege, Liias, Jacks,
Maxwell, Dickerson, Ryu, Lytton, Ormsby, Seaquist, Hasegawa,
Upthegrove, McCoy, Eddy, Sells, Haigh, Springer, Hunt, Tharinger,
Kenney, and Santos
Read first time 01/19/11. Referred to Committee on Health Care & Wellness.
1 AN ACT Relating to limited service pregnancy centers; adding a new
2 chapter to Title 70 RCW; and prescribing penalties.
3 BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
4 NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. This chapter may be known and cited as the
5 limited service pregnancy center accountability act.
6 NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. (1) The legislature finds that:
7 (a) Seeking or obtaining health care is fundamental to public
8 health and safety;
9 (b) Health care information is personal and sensitive information
10 that if improperly used, released, or withheld from a patient may do
11 significant harm to a patient's interests in privacy, health care, or
12 other interests; and
13 (c) Some limited service pregnancy centers have misled people about
14 the nature of their services, and have withheld health care records,
15 including the results of pregnancy tests, from individuals seeking
17 (2) It is the intent of the legislature that limited service
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1 pregnancy centers operating in Washington state provide truthful
2 information about the services they offer, and maintain the privacy of
3 and respect a person's right to his or her health care information.
4 NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. The definitions in this section apply
5 throughout this chapter unless the context clearly requires otherwise.
6 (1) "Comprehensive birth control services" means the medical
7 evaluation and care related to the prescription or provision of
8 contraceptive drugs or devices, and includes the provision of
9 nondirective counseling on methods and efficacy of contraception, and
10 the prescription or provision of contraceptive drugs or devices.
11 (2) "Health care information" has the same meaning as in RCW
13 (3) "Limited service pregnancy center" means an organization that
14 advertises, offers, or provides pregnancy tests or ultrasounds, and
15 information about adoption or abortion, whether for a fee or as a free
16 service, but does not provide any of the following: Prenatal medical
17 care, comprehensive birth control services, and abortion or referrals
18 for abortion. "Limited service pregnancy center" does not include
19 health care entities licensed under Title 18 RCW, hospitals and
20 entities licensed under Title 70 RCW, or health care providers licensed
21 under Title 18 RCW. A limited service pregnancy center remains subject
22 to the provisions of this chapter notwithstanding the presence of a
23 licensed health care provider in the governance of, on the staff of, or
24 acting as a volunteer with the limited service pregnancy center.
25 (4) "Primary languages" means the most frequently spoken languages
26 in the county in which the limited service pregnancy center is located,
27 and includes at a minimum English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian,
28 Laotian, and Chinese.
29 NEW SECTION. Sec. 4. (1) A limited service pregnancy center shall
30 make the following disclosures to a person seeking services:
31 (a) That the center does not provide abortion or comprehensive
32 birth control services;
33 (b) That the center does not provide referrals to individuals or
34 organizations that provide abortion or comprehensive birth control
35 services; and
HB 1366 p. 2
1 (c) That the center does not provide medical care for pregnant
3 (2) The disclosure required by subsection (1) of this section must
4 be provided as follows:
5 (a) Verbally, in such a manner as to be reasonably understandable
6 to the person seeking services, upon first communication or first
7 contact with a person seeking services, whether by telephone,
8 electronic communication, or in person; and
9 (b) In writing, as follows:
10 (i) In all primary languages, in thirty-point font size or larger,
11 on eight and one-half inch by eleven inch paper or larger, posted (A)
12 on the main entry door of the organization and (B) inside the building
13 housing the organization in such a manner as to be clearly visible from
14 the area at which the organization conducts intakes; and
15 (ii) In all primary languages, clearly visible on the home page of
16 the organization's web site, in the primary font size used on the web
17 site; and
18 (iii) In all primary languages, in any advertisement or notice
19 promoting the center's services.
20 (3) A limited service pregnancy center shall, before providing a
21 pregnancy test that uses an over-the-counter product to perform the
22 pregnancy test, inform the person seeking to be tested, in such a
23 manner as to be reasonably understandable to the person seeking
24 services, that the pregnancy test is an over-the-counter product and
25 shall offer the person seeking to be tested the opportunity to self-
27 NEW SECTION. Sec. 5. (1) A limited service pregnancy center that
28 collects health care information from a person seeking or receiving its
29 services may not disclose health care information about that person to
30 any other person, entity, or organization without the service
31 recipient's written authorization. A disclosure made under a service
32 recipient's written authorization must conform to the authorization.
33 (2) To be valid, a service recipient's authorization must conform
34 to the requirements of RCW 70.02.030(3).
35 (3) A limited service pregnancy center that provides or assists in
36 the provision of pregnancy testing, whether for a fee or without
37 charge, whether those tests are over-the-counter or laboratory tests,
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1 shall provide the person tested with a free written statement of the
2 results of the pregnancy test, in English and in the person's primary
3 language, immediately after the test is completed. For the purpose of
4 this subsection, "primary language" means the language primarily spoken
5 by the tested person.
6 (4) Upon receipt of a written request from a service recipient to
7 examine or copy all or part of the recipient's recorded health care
8 information, a limited service pregnancy center, as promptly as
9 required under the circumstances, but no later than fifteen working
10 days after receiving the request shall:
11 (a) Make the information available for examination during regular
12 business hours and provide a free copy to the service recipient, if
14 (b) Inform the service recipient if the information does not exist
15 or cannot be found; and
16 (c) If the limited service pregnancy center does not maintain a
17 record of the information, inform the service recipient and provide the
18 name and address, if known, of the entity that maintains the record.
19 NEW SECTION. Sec. 6. (1) Any person who is aggrieved by a
20 violation of this chapter may bring a civil action against a limited
21 service pregnancy center in superior court to enjoin further
22 violations, to recover the actual damages sustained by him or her, or
23 both, together with the costs of the suit, including reasonable
24 attorneys' fees. The court may, in its discretion, increase the award
25 of damages to an amount not to exceed three times the actual damages
26 sustained. A party seeking civil damages under this section may
27 recover upon proof of a violation by a preponderance of the evidence.
28 For the purpose of this section, "person" includes counties or other
30 (2) If damages are awarded under this section, the court may, in
31 addition to damages, impose on a liable party a civil fine of not more
32 than one thousand dollars to be paid to the plaintiff.
33 (3) The remedy provided by this section is in addition to any
34 common law remedy or other remedy that may be available to a person
35 aggrieved by a violation of this chapter.
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1 NEW SECTION. Sec. 7. If any provision of this act or its
2 application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the
3 remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other
4 persons or circumstances is not affected.
5 NEW SECTION. Sec. 8. Sections 1 through 7 of this act constitute
6 a new chapter in Title 70 RCW.
--- END ---
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The legislative battle echoes one that took place in Oregon four years ago and that ended in the favor of the pro-life projects.
NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have teamed up to propose legislation in Olympia to force the centers to post signs saying that women can obtain neither abortions nor referrals at the site. House Bill 1366 also would make it easier for a woman to sue one of the centers if she feels she was misled.
"It is a thinly veiled attempt to silence alternatives to abortion clinics," says a statement from the bill's opponents, a group that includes the Catholic dioceses in the state.
Though the church does not operate pregnancy resource centers, Catholics support the donation-run projects. In addition, Catholic Charities provides some help to pregnant women.
"We have been saying: if we are truly talking about choice, shouldn't a woman have a choice to go to one of these centers," says Dominican Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference. "They provide millions of dollars in services at no cost to the state."
Sister Sharon says the bill fails the test of equal treatment. It would not require abortion clinics to declare what they do and don't do and would not create new reasons for women to sue abortion providers.
The bill, and its companion legislation in the Senate, have so far stayed in committee. Should it emerge, it has a strong chance of passing because both chambers of the Washington Legislature are controlled by Democrats and Gov. Christine Gregoire has backed abortion rights vigorously in the past.
Abortion rights groups tried a version of the law last year in Washington state, but constitutional questions arose. Sponsors say they have fixed the problems this time. The coalition argues that the pro-life centers "infringe on patients' rights, and limit women's health care options."
Many pro-life centers offer pregnancy tests and ultrasound images of the developing child. Seeing those pictures has steered many women from abortion, say resource center staff.
Catholics familiar with the centers know them as places where kindly volunteers knit blankets and provide a listening ear to pregnant women. It seems odd to many that such benign places would be a target of political attack.
Testimony in packed committee rooms has come from women grateful for the help they received and a few who felt bamboozled.
"We are pretty open with what we do and don't do," says Terry Brand, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Stayton and director of Birthright of Salem. "There would not be any question with where we stand."
Birthright offers counseling, support, supplies and pregnancy tests.
Dorothy Benoit, a regional consultant for Birthright in the Pacific Northwest, says similar bills have been appearing around the country. Birthright does not get involved in political matters, but focuses on serving women and children, she explains.
In 2007, a bill in the Oregon Legislature would have required an investigation of organizations like Birthright, which has offices in four Oregon cities. That proposed legislation stalled in committee.
Across the country in Baltimore, the city had passed a similar law, but a federal court struck it down last month as a form of discrimination. The Constitution prohibits singling out one group for unequal treatment based on beliefs.