Frequently asked questions about the regulation of healthcare professionals and abortion in Washington state
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue an advisory opinion in June 2022 that could impact the current situation Roe v. calf Verdict. Washington State’s professional health authorities recognize this when Roe v. calf is affected, this could lead to practical concerns for our licensees.
The Washington State Medical Commission, the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission, and the Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission have prepared these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to clarify how Washington regulators are addressing the matter regardless of the decision of the US Supreme Court will continue to address .
What is the history of abortion laws in Washington state?
Washington was one of the first states to legalize abortion before Roe v. Wade decriminalized 20 in the 1970 referendum. In 1991, Initiative 120 was passed. Initiative 120 ensures that “the state shall not deny or interfere with the right of a pregnant person to choose to have an abortion before the fetus is viable or to protect her life or health”.
The Reproductive Parity Act came into force in June 2018. This law increased access to reproductive health care and preventive services for all Washingtonians. It also stipulated that health insurance plans must not limit abortion benefits and that if health insurance includes maternity care, it must also provide coverage that allows for an abortion.
The Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act, effective June 9, 2022, helps maintain a pregnant person’s access to abortion treatment. This legislation expands the list of providers legally authorized to provide abortion services and updates the wording of the 1991 Initiative 120 to include transgender, non-binary and gender-matched individuals as those entitled to abortion treatment. It ensures that abortion service providers in Washington can serve any person who comes to Washington state to receive abortion services.
Will abortion remain legal in Washington state?
Washington law states that “every person has a fundamental right to privacy in relation to personal reproductive choices,” including “the fundamental right to choose or to refuse abortion.” (RCW 9.02.100)
In addition, state law clarifies that no one may interfere with the right of a pregnant person to choose an abortion over the viability of the fetus, or the right of a physician to perform an abortion. (RCW 9.02.110). See below for more viability information.
Under current state law, state regulatory agencies cannot prevent, prevent, impede, or interfere with a healthcare professional acting in their area of practice from performing an abortion that meets state standards of care.
What is an abortion and in how many weeks can an abortion be performed?
Washington law defines abortion as “any medical treatment intended to bring about the termination of a pregnancy, except for the purpose of effecting a live birth.” (RCW 9.02.170)
In Washington, abortions are legal to the point of viability of the fetus or to protect the life or health of the pregnant person. (RCW 02/09/110) Viability is defined as “that point in pregnancy when there is a reasonable probability that the fetus will survive outside the uterus without the use of extraordinary medical measures.”
Viability is determined by the judgment of a physician, PA, ARNP or other healthcare provider acting within the provider’s purview on the particular facts of the case. (RCW 9.02.170)
In addition, Washington considers a practitioner’s good faith verdict as a defense for violations of RCW 9.02. This means that if the viability or the health of the pregnant woman is in question, bona fide providers are fundamentally protected.
How do state regulators determine discipline and licensing when Roe v. calf has tipped over?
The ruling does not affect the way Washington state health care regulators operate.
Washington regulators are complaint-based. Any complaint filed with a state health agency will be evaluated based on its own unique facts and circumstances, as is current practice.
The Uniform Disciplinary Act (UDA) defines standards of discipline, licensing and powers vested in health care regulators and the Secretary of Health. UDA Section RCW 18.130.180 describes what constitutes unprofessional conduct. Health care regulators use their discretion, both in terms of licensing and discipline, to apply these laws.
In Washington, performing an abortion by the means found in RCW 2/9/170 that does not harm the pregnant person and precedes the viability of the fetus does not violate the UDA.
Generally, Washington does not discipline or deny licensing based solely on the status of licensing or disciplining in another state.
Who Can Perform an Abortion in Washington State?
A physician (MD), osteopathic physician (DO), physician assistant (PA), advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP), or other healthcare provider working in the provider’s line of business may perform an abortion as defined in RCW 9.02.170 carry out their field of activity. (EHB 1851, Chapter 65, Laws of 2022)
In addition, Washington regulation requires all hospitals with emergency rooms to offer emergency contraception as a treatment option for any woman seeking treatment for sexual assault. (WAC 246-320-286)
Providers can refer patients and the public to the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services website for a compendium of resources on who can perform abortions, insurance coverage mandates, privacy laws and more: DOH Abortion Resources website.
Can a Washington state pharmacist dispense hormonal, non-hormonal, or emergency contraceptives?
Yes, a pharmacist can issue hormonal, non-hormonal, or emergency contraceptives according to a valid prescription or regulation. As with any other prescribed medication, when dispensing hormonal, non-hormonal, or emergency contraceptives, pharmacists must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including the requirement to ensure that a prescribed contraceptive is safe and appropriate for each patient (WAC 246-945-305 (2).
All complaints received by the Pharmacy Commission related to the dispensing of hormonal, non-hormonal or emergency contraceptives by pharmacists are reviewed and evaluated. The Pharmacy Commission examines each complaint for its facts and circumstances.
Several committees and commissions are brought together – this is how it works.
The following professional health authorities recognize that while a US Supreme Court ruling could affect the rights of pregnant persons nationally, such a ruling would not change Washington state law. For information on how each commission is addressing this issue, please click on the links below: