If 2012 was the political year of women (binders of women, Sandra Fluke and the all the “rape guys” losing at the ballot box), then 2013 might very well become the year of women’s reproductive choice legislation. Already, our new governor has name-checked one of Planned Parenthood’s priorities during his inaugural address and a slew of fresh legislation concerning abortion, contraception and funding for family planning has been introduced on both sides of the aisle.
To get a better grasp on these issues, I sat down with the Public Policy coordinator for the Mt Baker Planned Parenthood Stephanie Kountouros. In an effort toward full disclosure, I count her among my friends and know she is a wicked good card player. In her professional life, however, her biggest priority this year is a bill called the Reproductive Parity Act (SB 5009). “This bill would make a requirement that all insurance companies in Washington, if they cover maternity costs, they must also cover abortion.” She notes that already, all the private insurance companies in Washington do that, however, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we will be opening exchanges for people to purchase insurance from companies outside of Washington and they might not carry that sort of coverage. “It is important to preserve what we have now so that every woman who pays for insurance has the same options as everyone else.”
Playing devil’s advocate, I asked if this wasn’t just an attempt by Planned Parenthood to keep their revenue stream. Kountouros notes that abortion makes up a very small slice of Planned Parenthood’s business, but, “the impact is not as big on Planned Parenthood as it is on the women and children of our state. The families with the best health care options make the best health care choices. This bill will keep both Planned Parenthood and Washington state strong.”
Another key bill being debated is a Parental Notification Bill, that has been introduced in the House (HB 1257) and the Senate (SB5156). This bill would demand that parents be notified, and would require a mandatory waiting period for teens requesting an abortion with no exemption for children in incestuous or abusive situations. Kountouros is, naturally, quite opposed to this bill. “Of course we want the parents involved, and most are. From our clinic’s perspective, that is what we usually see. However,” Kountouros continues grimly, “this bill creates a gravely dangerous situation where the teen may go online to find information and cause themselves drastic harm.”
Sen. Ranker (in my recent interview with him) highlighted this bill as a top priority to stop. “This bill will have a chilling effect on young women’s choices. I would hope that every young woman facing that choice would involve their parents, but for some, that is not an option. This effort would increase the number of unsafe abortions, increase the number of teenage mothers. It is very clearly an effort at intimidation.”
Finally, there is the ever-present struggle over funding. Last year, four Planned Parenthood clinics were shut down around Washington for lack of funding. Kountouros notes that our state would pay over four dollars in unintended pregnancy costs for every dollar cut from family planning. Planned Parenthood is “an integral part of the community health network. Many of our patients see no other doctor. It is an important resource for students and a gateway to vital health services.” When I asked her to elaborate, she told me about a friend who came to Planned Parenthood for a check-up because she had no health insurance and no other place to go. They found breast cancer. But because of her visit, they were able to catch it early and she lives happily and healthy to this day.
If these issues interest you, you can get involved by joining Planned Parenthood on their annual lobby day. My wife and I have done it a couple of years in a row and it is a wonderful experience. There is a bus going down from Bellingham, they provide training and lunch. If you are interested, click here to email Stephanie Kountouros today.