SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state enacted legal protections Thursday for people who travel there seeking reproductive and gender-affirming procedures and treatment, becoming the latest Democrat-led state to enact safeguards as Republican-led states ban or restrict care.
The law, which protects patients and providers, tells other states they will not be able to use Washington state courts or judicial processes to enforce their bans on abortion and gender-affirming health care, bill sponsor Rep. Drew Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge Island, said Thursday.
It blocks related warrants, subpoenas, extradition requests and court orders from other states. It also allows for a counterclaim of up to $10,000, plus damages, for those targeted by such legal action.
Gov. Jay Inslee wore a pink tie outside the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health at the University of Washington Thursday and signed the bill as a group of Democratic lawmakers and others supporting reproductive and gender-affirming care clapped and cheered.
The new law responds to states such as neighboring Idaho that have banned abortions and made it illegal for an adult to help a minor get an abortion without parental consent. Starting next year, anyone in Idaho who provides gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth could end up a convicted felon, after the state’s Republican governor signed legislation banning the treatment earlier this month.
Transgender medical treatment for children and teens has been available in the United States for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations.
The need for the shield law was questioned by Washington anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers, given that abortion protections already exist in state law. At least one Republican legislator suggested Washington should cooperate with out-of-state abortion cases, The Seattle Times reported.
“If we don’t honor the actions of courts, of law enforcement agencies from other states, we run the risk of other states not honoring ours,” Rep. Jim Walsh of Aberdeen said during debate on the bill. The Republican lawmaker also said he was concerned about creating a so-called “abortion tourism” industry in the state.
States that generally allow people to end pregnancies, including Washington and Oregon, have provided more abortions on average per month since June last year than they did before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That’s according to a national tracking effort called #WeCount, which is led by the Society of Family Planning, a nonprofit organization that promotes research on abortion and contraception.
Clinics in Washington have reported 138 more abortions per month since the court decision than in the months before it.
Washington’s new law is among a handful of related measures passed by the Democrat-led Legislature this session and signed by the governor Thursday. Inslee also signed a bill preventing out-of-pocket costs for abortions under health insurance plans regulated by the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office and a measure increasing consumer protections around how companies collect, share and sell health data including from period-tracking apps.
Another bill specifically protects health care providers from disciplinary action for performing legal abortion or gender-affirming care in the state.
The state also bought a bulk order of the longtime FDA-approved abortion medication mifepristone amid an ongoing lawsuit over the drug by a conservative Christian group. Lawmakers approved a bill authorizing the state Department of Corrections to distribute it.
Inslee had asked lawmakers this session to support changing the state constitution to protect abortion rights but it failed to advance — at least in part because it required some Republican support to meet a two-thirds threshold in each legislative chamber.
Abortion has been legal in Washington state since a 1970 statewide ballot referendum. In 1991, Washington voters approved Initiative 120, which codified Roe into state law.