ABORTION RIGHTS IN WASHINGTON STATE

Updated April 2021

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In Washington State,

✓  You have the legal right to choose an abortion.
✓  You have the legal right to decide to have a child. 
✓  No one can make this decision for you, even if you are under age 18.

Your Legal Rights

Is abortion legal? 

Yes. In Washington State, if you want or need to end your pregnancy, you have the legal right to have an abortion. It doesn’t matter if you are a minor, an adult, married, gender non-conforming, an immigrant, incarcerated, or differently-abled. Everyone in Washington State has the right to choose to stay pregnant or have an abortion. (There are some limits to why you can get an abortion if you are late in your pregnancy. See the next Q&A.)

Can I have an abortion for any reason?

 

You have the legal right to have an abortion for any reason before fetal viability. Fetal viability means that the fetus, if born, could survive. That’s at about 24-25 weeks into a pregnancy. You can still get an abortion after that if the abortion is necessary to protect your health or your life.

Can I be forced to have an abortion?

 

No. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, if you are differently-abled, or anything else: in Washington State, only you yourself have the legal right to decide to stay pregnant or to have an abortion.

 

Do I need anyone else’s permission to have an abortion? 

No. You do not have to notify or get permission from your husband, your boyfriend, your parents, or anyone else before getting an abortion.

Can I be forced to stay pregnant? 

No. It doesn’t matter if you’re married, an immigration, incarcerated, or anything else: in Washington State, only you yourself have the legal right to decide to stay pregnant or to have an abortion.

Do I need anyone else's permission to have an abortion?
 
No. You have the legal right to make this decision yourself and keep it private. You do not have to notify or get permission from your spouse, your partner, your parent/guardian, or anyone else before getting an abortion.
Does anyone have the right to know about my abortion?
 

No (but read the important note below). You have a legal right to keep your abortion choices confidential (private). Your parent/guardian does not have the right to know. Your spouse/partner does not have the right to know. You do not have to tell or get permission from anyone to get an abortion. Your medical records must be kept private.

Important: If you are using health insurance to pay for your abortion appointments and medications, remember: unless you tell them not to, the insurance company will send billing information with details about your abortion. See “How Can I Keep Insurance Billing Information Confidential?” later in this publication.

 
I am under 18 years old. Do I have to tell my parents?

No. In Washington State, minors (people under the age of 18) have the legal right to make their own choices about pregnancy (see publication When can a minor access health care without parental consent? listed in Resources below). You do not have to tell your parents or get their permission before you have an abortion in Washington. Your medical records about the abortion are confidential.

 

In many other states, however, the law is different. If you live outside of Washington State, talk to your doctor or call an abortion clinic that serves your area to ask about your rights. See “Where Can I Get an Abortion?” above. Also see the important information below about keeping insurance statements confidential.

Getting an Abortion
 

What is an abortion?
 
Abortion is a process that ends a pregnancy with either medication (pills) or an in-clinic medical procedure.
Who can perform an abortion?

It depends on the type of abortion and the week of pregnancy. In Washington State, physicians (medical doctors) and Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) can perform in-clinic abortion procedures and prescribe pills for a medication abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy (weeks 1-13). After then, abortion is restricted to in-clinic abortion procedures performed by a physician.

 

Where can I get an abortion?

You can get an abortion at women’s health clinics, Planned Parenthood clinics, some private clinics, and some hospitals.

 

Not all providers, hospitals, and clinics offer abortion care. Even if the hospital or clinic does offer abortion care, an individual health care provider can refuse to perform an abortion. However, they should refer you to a provider that does offer abortion care. If you don’t get a referral, contact Legal Voice at info@legalvoice.org or 206-682-9552.

 

For referrals, see listings under “Funding, Support, and Referrals” in the Resource section below.

 

Important: Stay away from crisis pregnancy centers. They are set up to look like reproductive health clinics but are not. See “Beware of Crisis Pregnancy Centers” below.

Do I have to wait 24 hours before I can get an abortion in Washington State?

No. Washington State does not require any “waiting period” before you can get an abortion. However, some health care providers may only schedule abortions on certain days, or you may have to wait because the provider is very busy.

Can I get an abortion in another state?

Yes. You can travel to a different state to get an abortion. However, if you go to another state, the laws of that state will apply to you. For example, if you are a minor who wants to have an abortion in Idaho, you must first get permission from a parent or a judge.

 

Important: Before you travel to another state to get an abortion:

  1. Check the laws of that state, and

  2. Find out if your insurance will pay for an out-of-state abortion.

I am an undocumented immigrant. Can I get an abortion?

Yes. If your income is low, you can get help paying for your abortion. See the “Cost and Insurance Coverage” section below.

Are protesters allowed to harass me? 

No. In Washington State, protesters may picket or demonstrate near clinics, but it is illegal for protesters to

  • stop you from entering a clinic or other medical facility;

  • threaten you or anyone with you;

  • make loud noises outside that disturb you inside the clinic; or

  • trespass on the private property of the clinic.

 

If any one of these happens to you, tell the clinic staff, consider calling 9-1-1, and contact Legal Voice at info@legalvoice.org or 206-682-9552.

Cost and Insurance Coverage

How much does an abortion cost?

It depends on the type of abortion, how long you have been pregnant, and where you go for abortion care. A medication abortion (the abortion pill) may be less expensive than an in-clinic procedure. First-trimester abortions are less expensive than late-term abortions. But how much you will have to pay depends on your health insurance coverage. Insurance coverage and financial help is discussed below.

 

You may also have to pay for travel, lodging, and take time off from work. Health insurance will not pay for these expenses. Depending on your work situation, you may be able to use sick leave or medical leave time to cover any lost wages, but not all workers have paid time off. For more information about getting time off from work, see listings under “Other Information” in Resources below. For help with expenses, see “Can I Get Help Paying for the Abortion?” below.

Does health insurance cover abortion? 

Washington law requires most health insurance plans that cover pregnancy care (“maternity care”) to also cover abortions. Look at your insurance plan or call your insurance company to find out if maternity care and abortion services are covered. Your health care provider can access your plan information, too, and tell you what is covered and how much you will have to pay.

How can I keep insurance billing information confidential?

 

Option 1: Take action to keep information confidential (private)

In Washington State, health insurance companies must send any bills, notices, and reminders about abortion and related appointments and medications directly to the patient. However, it is possible that someone else in your household could find this information if, for example, they are the first to look through the mail.

 

Contact the insurance company and be prepared to do these five things:

  1. Share your name and insurance policy numbers (you may need to share other information like your Social Security number, if you have one).

  2. Tell them you want to keep your health care information confidential.

  3. List the details you want to keep confidential (dates, services, medications, devices, provider identity, cost information, etc.).

  4. List the names and contact information for each person on your insurance plan who does have your permission to know these details.

  5. Share a mailing address, email address, and phone number that are safe ways to contact you.

 

If your insurance company fails to follow your instructions, contact Legal Voice at info@legalvoice.org or 206-682-9552.

 

Option 2: Do not use your health insurance

Go to a community health clinic or family planning clinic. Pay in cash, apply for a state program, or contact a nonprofit abortion fund for help (see next Q&A).

Can I get help paying for the abortion? 

There are several ways to get help paying for your abortion.

 

The state’s health insurance program, Washington Apple Health will pay for your abortion (and other reproductive health care, like birth control). It is free for people with low incomes. All people, including undocumented immigrants and minors, can get abortion coverage through Apple Health. See the Resources section below for links to more information and the application.

 

If you don’t qualify for free Apple Health, you can apply for the state’s Family Planning Only program (formerly called Take Charge). The program covers a range of reproductive health care needs and services. You can apply for this program even if you have insurance already. The program is for people of all ages, low- and middle-income, who live in Washington State. The program will keep your information confidential.

 

Nonprofit groups, such as Northwest Abortion Access Fund, may also be able to help you pay for your abortion expenses, including travel and lodging. Some abortion providers offer financial assistance to low-income patients. See listings under “Support and Referrals” in Resources below.

Beware of Crisis Pregnancy Centers

What about places I see offering “alternatives to abortion.”

These are “crisis pregnancy centers.” They are run by groups that oppose abortion. If you are looking for birth control or abortion services, do not go to a crisis pregnancy center. Their goal is to keep you from getting an abortion or birth control.

 

Crisis pregnancy centers are set up to look like real clinics. Many are located next to real reproductive health clinics. They rarely offer complete, medically accurate information, and never give referrals to abortion providers. They may offer free pregnancy testing, but then refuse to give you the written test results. They may offer ultrasounds (sonogram), but their staff may not be trained to use the machine properly, and most do not have medical professional on staff to look at the results. This could be very dangerous for you if they say your ultrasound results are fine when in fact there is something seriously wrong.

For more information, see the Legal Voice publication Know Before You Go: Crisis Pregnancy Centers Want You to Stay Pregnant.

But they offer free pregnancy tests and I need one.

You may be looking for pregnancy verification to apply for state funding for your abortion. YOU DO NOT need to do this. Abortion providers will give you a pregnancy test at your appointment. You will not have to pay for it.

 

If you need a free pregnancy test for another reason, contact a community health clinic or family planning clinic. They can help you get a free pregnancy test.

How can I tell a crisis pregnancy center from a medical clinic?

You can usually tell from the advertisements. Crisis pregnancy centers often appear in internet search results for “abortion.” They advertise on buses and billboards. Their ads may talk about “abortion counseling,” “pregnancy options,” or “help with your pregnancy.” To learn more, see the Legal Voice publication Know Before You Go: Crisis Pregnancy Centers Want You to Stay Pregnant, listed in Resources below.

 

Real medical clinics that offer a full range of services, including abortions, will be listed as “abortion providers” or “family planning clinics.” Their ads will identify all the services they provide, including counseling, birth control, and abortion. See listings under “Support and Referrals” in Resources below for referrals to abortion providers.

Resources

Funding, Support and Referrals

  • Backline: Operates a toll-free talkline to provide judgment-free support for pregnancy options, pregnancy loss, abortion, adoption, parenting, infertility, or other reproductive decisions and experiences.

    • By phone: 1-888-493-0092

  • Northwest Abortion Access Fund: The Pacific Northwest's abortion fund. Provides referrals, fundraising counseling, and help to pay for abortions and related travel.

    • By phone: 1-866-NWAAF10 (1-866-692-2310)

State Programs that Pay for Abortions

 

  • Apply online for Apple Health

    • Or in person: Visit a DSHS Community Services Office (CSO). To find one in your area, call the DSHS Customer Service Contact Center at 1-877-501-2233 or visit www.dshs.wa.gov/office-locations.

    • Or by phone: To apply by phone, and for questions about eligibility, etc., call the Washington Healthplanfinder Customer Support Center at 1-855-923-4633 (toll-free) or TTY 1-855-627-9604 (toll-free).

 

 

Other Information

 

 

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.

This information is current as of April 2021. Updated by Kim Clark, Jenny Wu, and Chloë Phalan, 6/1/2020. Acknowledgments to Priya Walia, Sara Ainsworth, Deb Klein, Helen Eastwood, Arcadia Corbett, Lisa Gouldy, and Janet Chung for their efforts on previous versions of this memo.

© 2021 Legal Voice — 1-206-682-9552

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)