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January 27, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Legislation strikes a chord in the abortion debate

Posted by Lillian Tucker

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, made a joke Wednesday that it has always been one of his goals to increase citizen participation in government.

His wish came true when 230-250 people, by my count, packed into the 8 a.m. Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee hearing to talk about Tom's proposed bill regulating so-called limited service pregnancy centers.

Senate Bill 6452 has been praised by NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and Planned Parenthood, but has raised a red flag among abortion rights opponents.

The bill defines limited service pregnancy centers as organizations that do not provide prenatal care, comprehensive birth control services, abortions or referrals for abortions. In Washington there are more than 46 of these privately funded and usually faith-based centers that offer free pregnancy tests, advice and parenting classes, among other services

SB 6452 would require centers to:

  • Provide reproductive health information that is "medically and scientifically accurate."

  • Communicate immediately that they do not provide medical care for pregnant women, abortion or comprehensive birth control services or referrals for such services.

  • Allow clients to self-administer pregnancy tests and provide test results in writing to clients as soon as they are known.

  • Keep all health information private, unless otherwise authorized, and make a client's records available to her promptly, but no later than 15 working days after receiving a request.

In an interview last week Tom said the bill does not seek to shut down the centers. He said he respects people's right to propagate their beliefs but does not think that should be achieved by giving out false medical information.

One woman who spoke at Wednesday's hearing said a center she visited withheld pregnancy test results and provided incorrect information. Glynnis Kirchmeier testified that she was told by someone at a limited service pregnancy center in Tacoma that "AIDS go through a condom like rice through a tennis racket."

Kate McLean testified in favor of SB 6452 on behalf of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Washington. She directed the committee's attention to Web sites of two centers that she said gave false medical information. One contained the statement that "some research has revealed a link between abortion and breast cancer," while another said "Condoms provide 0 percent protection against human papilloma virus (HPV)." McLean said both of those statements are incorrect.

"The deceptive information that these pregnancy centers are providing are leading patients away from beneficial behaviors such as condom use - which could prevent unwanted pregnancies, help prevent abortions and help prevent sexually transmitted deceases," McLean said.

Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, who opposes the bill, testified that the legislation violates the First Amendment by seeking to govern the speech of private, religious organizations that operate the centers.

"It's regulating something they have no business regulating and that is personal interaction between individuals," Zarelli said in an interview Wednesday. "When you walk into a Taco Bell are they required to tell you that they don't sell hamburgers?"

Paula Cullen, founding director of Life Services Spokane, which operates three clinics, testified that most of the centers in the state are transparent. She said the majority of them provide some medical services, primarily ultrasounds, and that these services are always done under the guidance of a licensed medical physician where privacy is protected under existing laws.

With both sides voicing strong feelings on the matter it is hard to predict what will become of the bill. But a decision will have to be made by Feb. 4, the last day that the Health and Long-Term Care Committee can vote on it.

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