Washington to invest $21M in abortion, reproductive health care

'Historic' state budget funding will go toward medical personnel, new provider training, clinic security and other resources.

Lawmakers stand behind Gov. Inslee as he signs abortion bills

Lawmakers, including primary bill sponsor state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines (behind in gray and pink), applaud as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5768, which protects abortion pill access by authorizing the Department of Corrections to distribute a supply of 30,000 doses of mifepristone. The signing took place Thursday, April 27, 2023, at the University of Washington's Hans Rosling Center for Population Health. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

While Washington legislators focused on broadening abortion access through a series of bills signed last week by Gov. Jay Inslee, the state also invested state tax dollars to bolster reproductive health care. 

The state budget for the next two years includes $21 million for abortion infrastructure, the largest such allocation in recent memory. 

The money will pay for salaries for abortion providers, treatment for out-of-state patients, medical personnel training and security improvements. Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates’ Courtney Normand called the allocation “a historical investment in abortion care.”

“The stakes have never been higher for patients who depend on our dauntless abortion providers. This funding means that our state will remain a place where people from across the country can access needed medical services,” Normand said.  

Like many health care providers, Planned Parenthood has been affected by the national shortage of health care staff. The organization has a 25% vacancy rate in patient-facing jobs even as the demand for abortions in Washington has increased in recent years – a trend that preceded the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, but was exacerbated by it.

Increasing patient numbers at Planned Parenthood extend all the way back to 2010, when numerous abortion restrictions introduced in other state legislatures necessitated patient travel, even though Roe was still the law of the land. From April to August of 2022, providers experienced a 5% increase in patients, which spiked to 19% from August through October. Independent clinics in Washington faced similar increases in patients traveling from out of state. Cedar River Clinics, which provide both gender-affirming care and later abortions, has accommodated out-of-state patients for decades.

According to the most recent report from the Society of Family Planning, which tracks changes in abortion rates by state, the monthly average number of abortions provided in Washington has increased by 138 procedures since the Dobbs decision. The average in nearby Idaho, for comparison, was just 50. Before Dobbs, monthly rates in Idaho had been more than three times that number; even then, it was routine for Idaho patients seeking abortion to travel to Washington clinics for care.

The budget investment in abortion providers will help offset these ongoing demands on Washington clinics. It also addresses another ongoing, increasing challenge for clinics: growing concerns about violence and security threats.

In 2022, the National Abortion Federation reported an increase in incidents of clinic violence, a finding that preceded the Dobbs decision. Since Roe’s reversal, anti-abortion activists have focused protests and harassment on communities where abortion remains legal and accessible. In December, Planned Parenthood won a summary judgment against the Church at Planned Parenthood, an anti-abortion group, which had for years convened disruptive gatherings outside the organization’s health center in Spokane and focused its attention specifically where abortions were still happening after Dobbs. The group has been ordered to pay damages to Planned Parenthood, as well as legal fees.

“We’re in a very heated time in the abortion conversation nationwide and threats against our clinics persist, and unfortunately have increased, as a result of where we are currently,” said Mack Smith, communications manager at Planned Parenthood Great Northwest Hawai‘i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky and at Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “The security allocation will make sure that we’re able to safely provide care for our patients and that our staff can feel safe coming to work every day.”

In addition to these investments in workforce development, security, and grants for safety-net providers, the Legislature passed several major bills affirming access to abortion in Washington state. Those bills included laws shielding patients and providers from prosecution, protecting patients’ private health data, eliminating coinsurance for abortion on private insurance plans under certain circumstances, preventing medical licensing authorities from retaliating against abortion providers, and authorizing the Department of Corrections to distribute the state’s three-year supply of the abortion pill mifepristone.

Reproductive health policy bills signed into law:

Shield Law: ESHB 1469 establishes reproductive health care services like abortion and gender-affirming care as protected health care in the state of Washington; shields abortion patients and providers from out-of-state prosecutions; and restricts Washington businesses, courts and law enforcement from complying with such prosecutions.

“My Health, My Data” Act: HB 1155 establishes consumer protections for private health data not currently protected under HIPAA, placing new regulations on how it’s shared, collected, and sold. This protects patient data that may be shared with websites, apps and health-monitoring programs like period trackers.

Eliminating cost-sharing for abortion: SB 5242 prohibits cost-sharing for abortions, expanding access for patients on private insurance plans without high deductibles.

Medical licensing: ESHB 1340 prevents medical licensing boards from taking disciplinary action against medical providers for offering abortion and gender-affirming care.
Mifepristone distribution: In response to ongoing legal action involving the abortion pill mifepristone, the state has acquired a three-year supply of the drug, to be distributed through the Department of Corrections, which holds a pharmacy license. SB 5768 authorizes this distribution.

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