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Legislators hear what they want on Reproductive Parity Act

Sen. Steve Hobbs Credit: John Stang

It was preaching to the choir.

Supporters of the Reproductive Parity Act briefed 11 Democratic state senators Monday about what the companion House and Senate bills mean to them. No Republican senators were present. The 11 Democrats did not make up a specific Senate committee. The people testifying were selected in advance and represented one side of the issue.

It was a gesture, rather than a formal hearing, to push the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — 24 Republicans and two Democrats — to bring the Reproductive Parity Act to a floor vote in the Senate. The House passed the bill 53-43, mostly along party lines, in 2013 only to see it and a Senate companion bill stall last year. Again this year, the bill has come to a halt in the Senate Health Committee chaired by Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, who opposes abortion. The bills would require health plans that cover maternity care to cover abortions as well.

Supposedly, the Reproductive Parity Act has at least the needed 25 senators to pass, with support coming from both sides of the aisle. However, the majority coalition's leaders have yet to allow a floor vote on either bill. Nor have they tried to persuade Becker to move it out of her committee.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, has been trying to get the coalition leaders to allow a floor vote on the measure, with no success. She declined to say whether the Democrats would try to go the Ninth Order route — a parliamentary procedure in which a majority of the entire Senate can bring a bill to the floor, regardless of whether it has made it through the appropriate committee. However, a strong, unwritten rule of the House and Senate says that a legislator should vote with his or her caucus on a procedural matter regardless of how the person feels about the actual bill. The bottom line is that the majority caucus in a chamber will win most, if not all, Ninth Order challenges.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, sometimes does not send sure-to-pass bills to floor votes, and retired Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, followed the same practice.

At Monday's briefing, Washington's Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the National Organization of Women and the Community Abortion Information & Resource Project voiced their support for the bill.

Their main point was that low-income pregnant women sometimes don't have the money to get an abortion in a timely manner, a problem that could be fixed by abortion coverage. An abortion can cost $600 in the first trimester and become more expensive later in a pregnancy, said Tiffany Hankins of the Community Abortion Information & Resource Project. "A pregnancy is a ticking clock. The longer a woman waits to raise the money, the higher the cost of the abortion. … That's why we need the Reproductive Parity Act," Hankins said.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and sponsor of the stalled Senate reproductive parity bill, said that the state's new health insurance exchange does not guarantee abortion coverage, which would be needed most by a woman in a low-income bracket who requires use of the exchange. "To me, it's kind of a class system," Hobbs said.

"We see an economic divide," said Elaine Rose of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. "People's health care decisions are determined by how much money they have."

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