The state Senate committee on health and long-term care heard opposing views Wednesday regarding a bill that would force limited-service pregnancy centers to disclose that they don’t provide abortions, birth-control services, referrals for abortions or prenatal care.
Two women spoke in wavering voices as they told lawmakers how their lives changed after they had abortions as teenagers, leading to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior. They told committee members that they wished they’d sought the advice of volunteers from a limited-service pregnancy center instead and reconsidered.
Four college students offered a different perspective, telling a standing-room-only crowd that the advice they received at the centers was deceiving and inaccurate.
The students asked lawmakers to help move along Senate Bill 6452, which would require the state’s 46 limited-service pregnancy centers – many faith-based and staffed by volunteers – to be more transparent about the nature of their services and to dispense reproductive health information that is “medically and scientifically accurate.” The proposed legislation also calls for centers to protect the the privacy of clients and provide the results of pregnancy tests, in writing, immediately after they become available.
Supporters of the measure say women who think they might be pregnant go to the centers thinking they’ll receive unbiased counseling. Prime sponsor Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, said that in some cases, volunteers have told women that abortion increases their risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, expressed concern about whether the legislation would infringe on the First Amendment rights of those who run the limited-service pregnancy centers. Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield questioned whether the state has the ability to regulate the centers, given that none receives public funding.
“I think it’s akin to telling a pastor of a church what he can and can’t say to someone who chooses to come to him for counseling,” Zarelli said.
Paula Cullen, a registered nurse and founding director of Life Services of Spokane, said inaccurate assumptions are being made. She said many limited-service pregnancy centers in the state do provide some level of medical services, such as ultrasounds and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Others questioned whether the people who provide such services are qualified to do the work. Cullen said they are.
Kim Anderson, who had two abortions as a teen, said she struggled with drug addiction and depression because she didn’t have access to the type of counseling provided by limited-access pregnancy clinics.
“I didn’t receive the education, I didn’t receive support and I was not empowered to make the right decisions,” she said.