No Republican opposed to abortion rights has become governor in this state, at least in modern times. So while the gubernatorial candidates have spent most of their time talking about jobs and the economy this election, social issues clearly matter with voters.

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No Republican opposed to abortion rights has become governor in this state, at least in modern times.

So while the gubernatorial candidates have spent most of their time talking about jobs and the economy this election, social issues clearly matter with voters.

“Any Republican candidate in Washington needs to position themselves as more moderate on issues like abortion … if they have any chance of winning,” said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political-science professor.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna has done just that, although he said in an interview he doesn’t like the label moderate, or any other.

“You get attacked from both sides because you’re not pure enough for either side,” he said. “It’s not helpful to a candidate to let a lot of labels get stuck as a replacement for actually understanding the candidate’s detailed views.”

McKenna has long made it clear he supports a woman’s right to choose abortion. He also supports access to emergency contraception in every pharmacy and backs domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples, although not gay marriage.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee and his supporters, however, have tried to paint McKenna as a far-right conservative, noting that he joined a GOP lawsuit to overturn President Obama’s health-care law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law earlier this year.

Democrats also have run television ads trying to connect McKenna to the national Republican platform — which calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion — and more conservative elements of the party.

Here are the candidates’ positions on key social issues.


Washington was the first state to legalize abortion by a vote of the people, by referendum in 1970. An initiative that would have prohibited public funding of abortions was rejected by voters in 1984.

Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, was codified as state law in a successful 1991 initiative. And in 1998, an initiative that would have prohibited so-called late-term abortions was rejected by 57 percent of voters.

McKenna has said for years that he supports the right of women to choose abortion, and notes the repeated ballot votes.

“Our laws on abortion have been made by the voters,” McKenna said in a July interview. “They are the right laws because they acknowledge a woman has a choice to make here. I hope that whenever she can, she’ll choose to have the baby she’s carrying. But it is her choice.”

When running for attorney general in 2008, McKenna said he was “pro-choice,” but now shies away from that term.

“The problem with labels like pro-choice or pro-life is you’re never pro-choice enough for the NARAL crowd and you’re never pro-life enough for the human life crowd,” he said. “I’m like most voters in this state. I think that when it comes to a woman making decisions about her body, these are decisions she should be able to make within the frame of the law.”

Inslee, likewise, supports the right to abortion.

“My view is this should be an individual decision that is up to the conscience and convictions of a Washingtonian woman and that politicians should not be given the right to dictate their preferences over those of the … woman,” Inslee said.

Plan B

Both Inslee and McKenna support requiring pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives.

Washington’s rules say pharmacies must stock and dispense legal drugs for which there is a demand. The state adopted the regulations in 2007 after reports that some women had been denied access to Plan B, which is effective in preventing pregnancy if a woman takes it within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

A pharmacy and two pharmacists sued, saying the rules infringed on their religious freedom. McKenna’s office has represented the state in the case, which is still in court.

Inslee said women “should be able to walk into a pharmacy in Washington and buy a legally prescribable medication which is Plan B.”

McKenna’s campaign said in an email that “Rob thinks women should have access to emergency contraception in every pharmacy. If federal courts rule that pharmacists may conscientiously object, he would expect the pharmacists to refer patients to another pharmacy.”

Parity act

Earlier this year, lawmakers considered legislation that would require health-insurance plans covering maternity care to also pay for abortions, except those claiming a conscience-based exemption. The legislation, which made it through the state House last session but died in the Senate, has been called the Reproductive Parity Act.

Abortions are already widely covered by health plans in the state. The law was proposed amid uncertainty about how the federal health-care overhaul, and restrictions on abortion funding, might affect abortion coverage in the future.

McKenna’s campaign issued a statement saying he opposes the legislation because it could jeopardize federal funds.

“I support our existing, voter-approved state law which guarantees women access to insurance coverage for reproductive health care. I do not support changing the law in a way that could put federal funding of women’s health care at risk,” McKenna said in the statement.

That was a reference to a federal law, the Weldon Amendment, that allows the federal government to withhold money from local governments that discriminate against insurers who object to abortion.

Supporters of the state legislation contend it was drafted in a way that avoids putting federal funding at risk.

Inslee supports the Reproductive Parity Act, saying, “I think it’s a realistic approach.”

Gay marriage

One of the sharpest social-issue differences between the candidates is over gay marriage. Inslee supports it; McKenna doesn’t.

McKenna said he voted in favor of Referendum 71 in 2009, a voter-approved measure that upheld the state’s “everything but marriage” domestic-partnership law for gay and lesbian couples, which gives partners the same legal rights as married couples.

But he said he’ll vote against Referendum 74, which would maintain the gay-marriage law passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

“As for marriage itself, I have a religious view of marriage, which is that it’s to be between a man and a woman,” he said. “Others have a different view of marriage and will vote according to their own beliefs.”

McKenna said this is a good issue for voters to decide. “This is not a complex policy issue,” he said. “People are capable of deciding for themselves how they feel about it and the people will ultimately make the law here.”

He also said that as governor he would not seek to repeal the law if R-74 passes. “I think that once the voters have spoken on this, it’s a decided issue.”

Inslee said he supports gay marriage.

“Trudi and I have been in a 40-year marriage and I just do not believe fundamentally that any politician, Republican or Democrat … should be given the right to deny any Washingtonian the freedom to decide who to love or who to marry,” he said.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.