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Abortion Issue Spotlights Weak Spot In Gop Unity

The divisive issue of abortion is spotlighting cracks in the unity of House Republicans, with some members eager to tackle the topic while others want to avoid it.

House Republicans show remarkable agreement on other major issues, including health care, regulatory reform, crime and property rights.

But with one week before the deadline to report bills out of committee, there’s a lot of emotion over two abortion proposals and little consensus on how to handle them, said House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee.

“There are all kinds of concerns,” he said. “Should we act on the issue, do it now? Some feel not this year; some would like to never do it. There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of concern.”

The House Law and Justice Committee is expected to approve a bill within a week that would require parents to be notified if their child seeks an abortion. But committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane, says he’s not sure he’ll bring a second bill requiring so-called “informed consent” to a vote.

“The votes are there in committee, but it puts some members of the caucus in a difficult position if these bills start to move,” Padden said.

Some Republicans worry that debating abortion bills will distract lawmakers from their primary mission in Olympia.

“We went out and advertised the focus (of the Legislature), and that focus was the `Contract With Washington State,”’ said Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

“There are people who believe this takes away from that.”

Mielke said he’d like to see both bills come to a vote in the full House, but he said he worries about raising false expectations.

“If these bills were to leave the House, they would be pretty much dead after that,” he said.

“I don’t see them getting a hearing, let alone a vote in the Senate, or a signature from the governor.

“I’m not sure what’s accomplished by sending a bill out when it’s very clear the governor and Senate have no intention of taking it up. … People want to vote when their vote counts.”

Meanwhile, both abortion rights and anti-abortion activists have fired up their telephone trees to barrage lawmakers with calls.

Gerri Duzenack, lobbyist for Human Life of Washington, said she’s hopeful both bills will make it out of committee.

“The parental-notification bill puts parents back in the picture,” Duzenack said.

“I can’t believe my daughter has to have my signature to get an aspirin in school or to drop a course, but I don’t have to be notified if she wants an abortion.”

The informed consent bill protects girls and women from making irreversible mistakes, Duzenack said.

But the state medical association opposes both bills, as does Planned Parenthood.

“We have outstanding informed consent laws already on the books that cover patients’ rights without being intimidating,” said Dr. Peter McGough, a family practice physician in west Seattle and president of the Washington State Medical Association.

He said the parental-notification bill is a bad idea, too.

“Most teenagers try to discuss these things with their families, but many families are not like the ones you see on TV.”

xxxx ABORTION LEGISLATION PSHB 1523 requires a parent or guardian to be notified at least 48 hours before a minor child has an abortion. The requirement can be waived in a medical emergency or if the judge determines that: the girl is mature enough to decide for herself; notifying the parents or guardian would not be in the child’s best interests; or the girl has been physically or sexually abused by one or both parents or guardian.

HB 1519 requires that 24 hours before any abortion, the patient must be informed of: the probable gestational age of the fetus; whether the fetus can live outside the womb; alternatives to abortion; risks of abortion; information on adoption agencies; assistance available to help pay for the birth and raising of the child. The woman also must see “objective and non-judgmental” material, including pictures or drawings describing fetal development at two-week intervals and descriptions of the methods of abortion commonly used. These requirements would be waived in a medical emergency. Both bills are pending in the House Law and Justice Committee. To express an opinion, call the Legislative Hotline at (800) 562-6000 or Rep. Mike Padden, R-Spokane, chairman of the committee, at (360) 786-7984.