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Informed consent for pelvic exams winning approval


Last updated 2/28/2020 at 4:10pm

Pelvic exams on unconscious women won’t be allowed in Washington State without permission, under a bill cruising toward approval in the state Legislature.

Currently, it is legal in several states, including Washington state, for a healthcare provider to perform pelvic exams on women without their consent while 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.

“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, her body bears the scars and the signs of that abuse,” said Liias.

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, unless a “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 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 Friday, Jan. 24 with 45 yeas and zero nays and was passed by the House Thursday, Feb. 27 with 98 yeas and zero nays.


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