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Senate advances bills that would protect out-of-state patients seeking abortions

A network of reproductive rights advocates is working to share information about self-induced abortion, both in person and over the Internet.
Karina Perez for NPR

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services advanced two bills this week that could impact the safety and privacy of out-of-state patients who receive an abortion in Hawaiʻi.

SB 896 would prohibit Hawaiʻi from issuing a subpoena for information requested by another state if the information relates to reproductive health care services.

It also requires that the governor deny the surrender of a person if they are criminally charged with having an abortion in another state.

"The law is crystal clear that abortion care provided in Hawaiʻi remains legal, and the Department of Justice has reiterated that the Constitution restricts state's authority to ban reproductive health services provided outside of the borders of the state," said Rachel Kuenzi with Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.

The bill would also protect the medical providers who perform the abortion from being criminally prosecuted.

Another bill, SB 1, prohibits the state from engaging in abortion-related civil and criminal actions from other states. In addition, the bill would authorize physician associates — previously known as physician assistants — to perform abortions.

"There are studies showing that physician assistants in general can be trained to provide abortions safely — that’s abortion procedures and medication abortions. I mean if anything, medication abortion is prescribing medication," said Dr. Reni Soon, a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Researchers from the Guttmacher Institute found that 53% of abortions nationwide in 2020 were carried out through medication. The majority of abortions are practiced outside of private physicians' offices and hospitals.

Of the over 100 written testimonies, SB 896 received 80% in support and SB 1 received about 60% in support.

Both bills passed the committee hearing with amendments, with four votes in favor and one in opposition. First-term Republican Sen. Brenton Awa of Oʻahu was the lone "no" vote.

The bills will now go to the Senate floor and must be heard by the Judiciary Committee.

Corrected: February 6, 2023 at 10:01 AM HST
"Physician assistant" was changed to "physician associate" outside of direct quotes. HPR acknowledges the title change from the American Academy of Physician Associates and the terminology used in the proposed legislation of SB1.
Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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