Informed consent soon required for pelvic exams in state

Unauthorized pelvic exams are currently not illegal in Washington state

OLYMPIA — Washington state legislators are defining the limits in regard to pelvic exams with a bill that has been passed by both the Senate and the House.

Currently, it is legal in several states, including Washington, for a health care provider to perform pelvic exams on women without their consent while they are under anesthesia. Senate Bill 5282 requires a patient or a representative of the patient to provide informed consent before a health care provider or medical student may perform a pelvic exam on them.

“I think it’s important to ensure that women have control over, particularly, an examination as invasive as a pelvic exam,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, the bill’s primary sponsor.

“Even if a woman is unconscious, their body bears the scars and the signs of that abuse,” Liias said. “Informed consent is given when a patient voluntarily accepts or denies medical treatment based on information that is provided to them by a health care provider.”

A medical student is also prohibited from performing a pelvic exam on an unconscious patient, even under the supervision of a licensed health care provider, with the exception of certain circumstances. For instance, when “sexual assault is suspected, then evidence may be collected if the patient is not capable of informed consent due to a longer-term medical condition, or if evidence will be lost,” according to the House bill report.

Representatives of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys said more work needs to be done in order to best manage pelvic exams in cases of sexual assault.

“There may well be a need to have a search warrant or something to gather some of that evidence,” said Russell Brown, executive director for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

The bill was passed by the Senate Jan. 24 with 45 yes and zero no votes, and was passed unanimously by the House on Feb. 27 with 98 yes votes.