Peggy O’Ban

On the first truly warm day of Washington’s spring, hundreds of women crowded inside for a seat in a stale government hearing room for EHB 1044, the grotesquely misnamed “Reproductive Parity Act.”

The parity in the ”Reproductive Parity Act” goes like this: If you are an employer, including faith-based charities, inner-city clinics, hospitals or parochial schools, or a business owner who is offering maternity coverage in your health care plan, you have to pay for abortion too.

In other words, the “parity” in the bill uses the medical needs of the most vulnerable women – pregnant women in need of health care for themselves and their developing babies – as leverage for a first-in-the-nation abortion funding mandate. That’s anti-women.

The bill has a “conscience clause”- which is already in state law. But that clause, while effective as political cover for politicians, is woefully inadequate in protecting the rights of objectors.

One example is a small family-owned pharmacy whose owners had to sue the state in federal court to get back their constitutional right not to fill what they believed to be prescribed abortifacients. Though the family beat the state, the financial toll was staggering.

It gets worse. Since maternity coverage is mandated by state and federal law, your real choice is to pay for abortion or you can’t offer insurance.  Period. That’s anti-choice and a serious violation of our basic human right to personal conscience.

And that’s why the hearing in Olympia attracted national news.

There was a clear and visible majority. Hundreds of women were dressed in fuchsia (hot pink) and black – signature colors chosen to reflect solidarity in passion and purpose – wearing buttons bright with the message: STOP 1044.

Most of us who testified against EHB 1044 had never been to a senate hearing before. We were lawyers, businesswomen, busy moms, medical doctors, social workers, psychologists and teachers. We were theologians, daughters, women of different races and no single religion. From both political parties and none, united in support of women, personal conscience and real choice.

Not one person testified to any difficulty accessing abortion in any health care plan. Not one.

And Obamacare does nothing to alter or take away elective abortion from existing or future private health care plans. Obamacare is a federal subsidy for the uninsured. The abortion restriction in federal law (the Hyde-Weldon Amendment) pertains to federal programs only. Simple accounting procedures such as Planned Parenthood uses now can take care of any unforeseen complexity regarding abortion access.

So the A+ rating that Planned Parenthood gives Washington State for unfettered access to abortion is not at risk now or in the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, EHB 1044 failed to get out of committee and the idea was fittingly aborted before it could become law. Proponents are howling about the “will of the majority” being thwarted, but the results of a recent Elway poll suggest a majority of Washingtonians do not favor an abortion mandate.

Washingtonians have historically supported access to abortion, but mandating a third party pay for it is something else. In addition, more than 75 percent of abortions are paid for out-of-pocket anyway.

Still, a question remains. Why do key proponents of EHB 1044 want this bill if abortion coverage and access are not threatened?

They want the stigma removed. “Abortion is just another treatment for pregnancy,” one legislator said, as though that were self-evident.

Might as well say that a divorce is as happy as a wedding. It’s not. As hard as they try, the elective death of a human life is not viewed as a positive good. So they want to force a parity that can never be.

Formerly with the U.S. State Department and USAID in Afghanistan, Peggy O’Ban of Tacoma currently works as a part-time lobbyist and is the co-founder of the Washington Women’s Network.

[Note: This article was previously published in the print edition of the Tacoma News Tribune.]