The end of guaranteed abortion access nationwide may be imminent, if an alarming draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion leaked Monday accurately predicts the final version.
Because Washington’s leaders and voters have consistently supported abortion as a state-protected right, this radical upending of federal law would not affect rights in Washington state. But access could be stressed under the demand for procedures from people traveling from other states. Still, the ruling’s apparent direction signals a disturbing potential departure from expanding federal protection for personal rights. This should stir civic participation in this state and every other one. If federal protections are shredded, state and local governance must stand rock-solid.
That only happens when voters are engaged participants and elect conscientious, capable officeholders. It isn’t enough to puzzle over the November ballot when it arrives in six months. That election is taking shape right now. After a farcical redistricting process moved large chunks of Washington homes into different political boundaries, office-seekers will file their candidacies May 16-20 to represent voters across the state according to the new district lines.
Voters ought to begin taking stock now of their important issues — reproductive rights among many — and whom they trust to respect those priorities. The imperiled status of abortion access nationally, and the special protections Washington has given so this right can endure here, contains a sobering lesson: when Constitutional protections cannot be taken for granted, state and local governance matter deeply.
In state contests, voters here consistently have elected candidates who support abortion rights to serve as U.S. senators and governor. This history predates federal protections. In 1970, Washington voters approved Referendum Bill 20, making Washington the fourth state to legalize abortion for all pregnancies — with 56.5% of voters’ approval and endorsement from then-Gov. Dan Evans, a Republican. Then in 1991, the Washington Reproductive Privacy Act, passed as Initiative 120, wrote Roe v. Wade into state law, making this the first state with voter-approved guaranteed access to abortions. Lawmakers this spring further expanded abortion access with House Bill 1851, which expanded the categories of trained medical professionals who can provide abortions, and formally banned state action against people who choose abortion.
That’s what it means to have diligent state protection. Congress needs to give every American the same legal clarity for reproductive rights, and overcome Senate roadblocks to get there. The right to privacy outlined in the Roe v. Wade decision underpins other essential American freedoms, despite not being explicitly stated in the Constitution. A Supreme Court that deletes abortion rights from this construct could apply the same reductionist worldview to other federal protections reliant on similar foundations, such as marriage equality.
If the court ends up eviscerating Roe v. Wade, from 1973, and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision as the draft threatens, laws on the books in 22 states would severely curtail abortions immediately, according to research by the reproductive-rights Guttmacher Institute. That includes Washington’s neighbor, Idaho.
Washington’s long history of careful attention to reproductive rights has prepared the state well to serve as a haven for this unjust outcome. While companies including Washington-based Amazon deserve praise for ensuring employees in other places can afford to travel to care, the fundamental protection needs to be guaranteed by government. And that comes down to electing good leadership at every level. Even the rights bestowed in 49-year-old court decisions cannot be taken for granted.