Hawaii governor signs bill to strengthen abortion protections
The state bolstered its already robust abortion laws to better shield abortions seekers and providers from being targeting by states with more hostile abortion restrictions.
by Candace Cheung, Court House News, March 22, 2023
HONOLULU (CN) — Hawaii, the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize abortion three years before the establishment of Roe v. Wade in 1973, reinforced its commitment for an individual’s right to choose Wednesday as Governor Josh Green signed a law beefing up abortion protections for both the state residents and out-of-state travelers.
Governor Green signed the first bills of his tenure in the state's highest office in a ceremony Wednesday afternoon, including the measure protecting abortion rights across the islands.
Senate Bill 1 clarifies the right of a pregnant person to obtain an abortion or terminate a pregnancy and responds to action from other states that have sought to impose heavy abortion restrictions after last summer's Dobbs v. Jackson decision.
Green, who is a medical doctor, said during the signing, “Women have a right to chose to have an abortion. Doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, health care providers, have a right to care for their patients in the way that they think is the best for them in a private way for those in need. That’s what’s at stake here.”
The bill reinforces abortion protections in Hawaii for both abortion seekers and abortion providers, shielding them from interference from jurisdictions where abortion has become punishable.
SB 1 specifically prohibits disclosing information about reproductive health care services or workers to civil or criminal action from other states. It also prevents subpoenas and demands of surrenders issued from out of state for investigation into reproductive health care services performed in Hawaii.
Green was joined at the signing by his wife Jamie Ushiroda, Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke, and other women from both the state House and the Senate who worked on the bill.
Hawaii Island Senator Joy San Buenaventura, who has been leading the charge for the bill’s passage, addressed the hostile environment other states have become for health care providers since Dobbs, referencing recent news about an Idaho hospital that had closed its maternity ward due to doctors leaving the state that had become hostile to reproductive care workers.
“To those noble physicians, I say, E Komo Mai! Hawaii welcomes you!” she said, “Hawaii has shown that we will stand by our medical providers, we will stand by our physicians. And that those who provide safe abortion and contraception, even if it’s just to offer advice to tourists, will not have to fear arrest, extradition, subpoena."
The bill also allows licensed physician’s assistants to perform abortion procedures, where only physician or surgeons were permitted before, and repeals the requirement procedures only be performed at certain facilities.
Maui Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran, one of initial introducers of the bill, said that this element of the bill was especially important for expanding reproductive health care services to patients that may not have immediate access.
"That was the acknowledgement that in rural areas, especially in neighbor islands, physician assistants might be the primary care medical provider for a lot of people," Senator Keith-Agaran said in a phone interview.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 5% of women in Hawaii in 2017 lived in counties that had no abortion clinics.
The senator also noted that the first bill out of the legislative session is typically regarding budget, highlighting the priority reproductive rights have for current Hawaii leadership.
Hawaii joins other states like California, New York, and Washington that have expanded abortion access since the fall of Roe.
The measure passed out of both chambers of the state Legislature on Friday, where it garnered an extensive 300 pages of testimony, mainly in support, although The Hawaii Federation of Republican Women and numerous individuals testified in opposition, citing concern for fetuses and for the bill’s changed level of medical requirements.
Many also testified in support of the bill’s new gender-inclusive language, which refers to "pregnant people" rather than women or females.
“Hawaiʻi must remain a safe place for accessible health care for all. For all bodies: gender expansive bodies, gender non-conforming bodies, cisgender bodies — all bodies.” Gray Nauwelaerts wrote, pointing out Hawaii’s history of "mahu." the Native Hawaiian third gender that contemporarily encompasses various forms of gender identity and sexual orientation. “There are many transgender people in Hawaiʻi like me who aren’t acknowledged by the language used in our laws.”
SB 1 was the second act signed by Green Wednesday; he also signed Senate Bill 36, which clarifies criminal procedure for felony prosecutions and prevents reinitiating prosecution for the same offense except under special circumstances.
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