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Senators debate the capacity of minors to provide informed consent for abortion services

A bill that updates language in Washington State’s guardianship laws passed on Tuesday after Senators debated an amendment which sought to prevent minors from receiving an abortion without parental consent.

The amendment from Sen. Mike Padden (R – Spokane Valley) would have removed the capacity of a minor to provide informed consent for abortion services.

A decision to have an abortion or not is a big, big decision. To allow as our current law does for somebody as young as 12, or whenever they may become pregnant, to make that decision in isolation … I think we need to allow for the ability of parents to be involved just as they are in other health care decisions for their children,” said Padden.

According to the senate bill report, a person who is of the age of consent to make a health care decision is presumed to have capacity, unless subject to a guardianship that includes health care decision making. Adolescents are allowed to make health care decisions on their own behalf at age 13 related to behavioral health treatment, at age 14 related to testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and allows decisions related to personal reproductive health care to be made at any age.

Sen. Patty Kuderer (D – Bellevue), a former prosecutor, said children who come from abusive households must be able to access reproductive services on their own accord. As a prosecutor, Kuderer says it became clear that involving parents is not always in the best interest of the child, depending on their circumstances.

It was clear there were families that weren’t like mine. The children that we saw come into the courtroom didn’t have the parents that I had … When I was talking to one young woman, this was an assault case, she was nine years old. And she told me that she was afraid of her parents. That is why we need this law and we need to turn down this amendment.”

The bill allows for the presumption of capacity to be overcome if the health care provider reasonably determines the person lacks capacity to make a particular health care decision due to a “demonstrated inability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a health care condition or proposed treatment.”

Sen. Ann Rivers (R – La Center) argued that since minors have not yet completed brain development, they lack the ability to appreciate the nature of their decisions.

Here we are saying to someone whose brain isn’t fully developed, ‘just do this and your problem will go away.’ We’re not looking at the long-term consequence.”

Rivers also recounted her own personal experience going to her mother when she became pregnant at a young age. Making the decision to go to her mother changed their relationship for the better, she said.

I was a child mother. When I was very young, I got pregnant. It wasn’t under the circumstance anyone would want to become pregnant under. I will tell you the most frightening thing I had to do was go to my mom and tell her, ‘I think something is wrong with me.'”

In response, one of the bill’s prime sponsors said that preserving informed consent for minors seeking reproductive services is necessary for those who don’t have the support of their parents.

This is about access to medical care,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D – Federal Way). “If families and children have relationships, those kinds of conversations do occur and would occur. But there are many young people across our state that struggle and have challenges with relationships within their families.

Sen. Rebecca SaldaƱa (D – Seattle) said that the bill would do nothing to prevent young people from being able to speak with their parents about receiving an abortion.

What we want to make sure is clear is that it is not a prerequisite for being able to get care as a young person who is facing a situation that was not their choice. Of course we encourage, but we shall not mandate by law that a young woman who may have been the victim of rape, incest, or other violence has to have her life change because of that. [This amendment] would require her parents, who may or may not be the trusted adults in her life, to be able to make that decision about her body and her life.”

Sen. Perry Dozier (R – Waitsburg) asked why abortion is permissible since “we are so concerned with this virus and it taking lives.”

The amendment ultimately failed, but the bill went on to pass 30 – 17, with Rivers crossing party lines to support it anyway.

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