OLYMPIA, Washington, February 3, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Washington state Senate heard testimony yesterday regarding a bill that targets pro-life crisis pregnancy centers (CPC). The bill, which CPC supporters say would enact onerous regulations and expose the centers to harassing lawsuits, was introduced in January into the Washington State House of Representatives and is now making its way through the Senate.
Pro-life organizations working to oppose the bill had called for pro-life advocates to attend a similar hearing held in the House last Monday.
Joseph Backholm, Executive Director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, estimated the pro-life turnout at the January 24th hearing at “more than 500, and probably close to 750.” Opponents of the bill outnumbered pro-abortion supporters at a ratio of “probably eight or nine to one,” he told LifeSiteNews in an interview.
Turnout at the Senate hearing yesterday was lower due to the 8:00 am. starting time, he said, but pro-life advocates still came by the hundreds, packing the hearing and overflow rooms.
Neither the House nor the Senate bills, which are identical, have been voted on. If the bill is passed in both houses and is signed into law, the Family Policy Institute plans to file for a temporary injunction against enforcement of the bill and challenge it in court.
The bill would enact regulations that are enforceable only against crisis pregnancy centers, such as requiring that pregnancy test results be reported within a narrow timeframe and that the centers post notices explaining what services they do not provide.
It also exposes the pro-life centers to significant liability concerns by dispensing with the requirement that a person must demonstrate that they have been harmed by another’s actions in order to bring a lawsuit against them.
“[The bill] creates . . . liabilities and regulations that you can immediately remove by simply deciding to refer for abortion … it’s totally viewpoint-based,” said Backholm. “It doesn’t apply to people engaged in a certain activity. It applies to people who don’t like abortion engaged in a certain activity.”
Backholm said that he was “cautiously optimistic that it will not become law,” and “very confident that it will not be enforced if it did become law.”
A similar bill was struck down by a district judge in Baltimore, Maryland last week on first amendment grounds, providing a hopeful precedent to pro-life advocates in Washington State.
In a statement released yesterday, State Senator Randi Becker also criticized the bill based on fiscal considerations: “Considering that Governor Gregoire has called on faith-based and non-profit organizations to supply services that the state can no longer afford to offer, the Legislature should encourage these groups to provide services - not tie their hands with one-sided restrictions meant to curb their activities.”
Crisis pregnancy centers in Washington provide free services to women across the state worth an estimated $18.6 million, according to a statement released yesterday by Care Net, a national network of such centers with affiliates in Washington.
The Care Net statement also questioned how the state would fund the legal defense necessary if the law passed, in view of Washington’s $4.6 billion budget shortfall, an issue which was raised at yesterday’s hearing.