Nearly 70 pro-choice high school students came to Olympia on Monday to lobby for family planning funding and for the Reproductive Parity Act, the bill that the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC), under the leadership of black-sheep Democratic state Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), refused to bring to the floor last year after the Democratic house passed it 53-43. The bill would mandate that insurance companies that cover maternity care must also cover abortions.
The teen group, which is part of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest's Teen Council network, met members from 46 different districts. And two of the students—18-year-old Daneisha Butler from Redmond's Eastlake High Shcool and 16-year-old Jacob Hesterly from Bellevue's Interlake High School—met with MCC leader Sen. Tom himself.
Butler actually met with Sen. Tom last year as well. However, indicating that he had no memory of meeting her, she swooped her hand backwards in the air over her head, saying: "He didn't remember me. I don't think he wanted to." Last year, Butler says, Sen. Tom told her he would bring the RPA to the floor for a vote. However, he failed to do so.
This year, Tom was evidently more forthright. The two teenagers, debriefing at Temple Beth Hatfiloh in downtown Olympia after their day of lobbying at the capitol, report that Tom told them it wasn't worth the "political capital" to push the issue this year. (Not so fast, though: Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-44, Lake Stevens, is reportedly set to introduce the bill this week. He sponsored the legislation last year as well. It's already been reintroduced in the house this year where there was a hearing last week.)
"We were surprised that he took such a political turn," Hesterly says of Tom's candor. "We were talking to him about how this affects the people in his community, but he was so political."
Next, Butler asked Tom "are women less important than politics?" and reports that he just started to "talk in circles" after that.
Tom did reportedly push back with some substantive questions, though, asking the teens to back up their claim that not all insurance plans cover abortion. The pair plan to send him a follow-up letter documenting insurance plans that don't cover abortion. Planned Parenthood has used the example of Group Health.
Group Health actually will cover abortion costs, but abortion is not "technically covered in their plan," Planned Parenthood activists say, Instead, it's covered through a work-around so that enrollees who get an abortion at a Group Health facility will have their procedure paid for.
"While we welcome Group Health’s 'work-around,' it proves the need for the RPA," Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest spokesman Erik Houser says. "Without the RPA, there’s no assurance that abortion coverage will continue. Without the RPA, there's no way to ensure a woman who looks at her Group Health plan and sees that it doesn't cover abortion will keep going to find out about the 'work-around.'"
I have a call in to Group Health.
The RPA, by the way, would only cover small group and individual insurance providers and Obama's Affordable Care Act mandates that every exchange, whether or not the RPA passes, must have a carrier that does not cover abortion. As a result, Washington state's ACA exchange has eight options that do not cover abortion.
Did the teen group meet with any legislators who, unlike Tom, are openly hostile to abortion rights? (Tom is a social liberal and has a solid pro-choice voting record.)
"I don't remember her name," Hesterly said of another Planned Parenthood Teen Council member who met with socially conservative state Sen. Jan Angel's (R-26, Port Orchard) staff, "but she had blue hair."
That would be Hesterly's pro-choice colleague, 17-year-old Libby Shockman from the Tacoma School of the Arts. Shockman and another student activist from Angel's district, 17-year-old Cait Jackson from Peninsula High School, met with Angel's aide. "We weren't expecting to meet with Angel herself," Shockman says, "because sightings of her with Teen Council members are pretty rare."
Jackson and Shockman say Sen. Angel's aide listened to what they had to say: support family planning funding (which is currently holding steady at about $6 million per biennium, but used to be around $10 million per biennium before the Great Recession) and pass the RPA. After listening, though, the aide challenged them, asking the students if adding abortion coverage wouldn't, in fact, raise insurance costs. Jackson told him that having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term costs more than terminating a pregnancy.
According to the state Health Care Authority, the average cost of a state-paid termination is $587. In comparison, the approximate average cost of the state’s portion of delivery and first year of life care is $10,136, according to Washington State Medicaid’s data office.
"The best way to avoid these costs," says Houser, "is through robust family planning funding, giving women needed support to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their family. For every $1 cut from publicly funded family planning programs, over $6 will be spent on new unintended pregnancies, starting the same year a cut is made."
While Sen. Angel, who won a senate seat last year in an election that increased the effective GOP advantage in the senate to 26-23 (she was previously a state rep), didn't meet with the 17-year-old pro-choice students from her district yesterday, she did speak at an anti-choice/pro-life rally this morning, addressing a few thousand activists who packed the Capitol steps on Tuesday morning with placards declaring slogans such as "Abortion is Murder" and "Life Begins at Conception."
"The life of the unborn is being taken away every single day," Angel, the rally's kickoff speaker, said. "Life does begin at conception," she said acknowledging the signs. "Life begins before that. A doctor will tell you that. A scientist will tell you that. And I believe God will tell you that," she said to big cheers.
Footnote: Genie linked it in today's PubliCalendar, but Rolling Stone has a comprehensive feature on anti-choice legislation in play in state legislatures nationwide.