Responding to a story on PubliCola yesterday, Planned Parenthood denounced newly appointed King County sheriff Steve Strachan's sponsorship of anti-abortion legislation as a Minnesota state legislator. Strachan had his first big public appearance as sheriff yesterday, when he stood beside US Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to express support for expansion of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which Republicans in Congress are opposing.
When I asked Strachan about the two bills he sponsored as a state legislator, which would have imposed waiting periods, required doctors to provide misleading information about abortion risks, and barred state family planning funds from paying for abortions or abortion referrals, he told me his views on abortion have "evolved" since he sponsored the legislation, in 2003 and 2004.
In its statement, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest said they were "shocked" that the county council would appoint someone with an anti-choice record as sheriff. And they said the group would be "sending a questionnaire related to women’s reproductive health in King County to Mr. Strachan, and we expect him to answer in line with the values of King County women."
What exactly does abortion have to do with the role of the King County sheriff---or, for that matter, the Violence Against Women Act? I went on John Carlson's show on KOMO 1000 radio today to talk about just that.
First, here's why I think the abortion issue is related to the Violence Against Women Act (and other legislation that impacts women). Obviously, the nation is in the middle of a historical debate about women's basic rights---from the right to contraception as part of basic preventive health care, to the right to obtain a safe, legal abortion, to the right to a safe haven when we're threatened by a partner. You can't separate the right to one form of bodily autonomy from another---if we decide, as a society, that women don't deserve to have sex without the fear of pregnancy, we might as well also decide that women don't deserve protection from violent partners.
(Carlson made the point here that if I opposed abortion rights instead of supporting them, I might reasonably argue that efforts to protecting fetuses from abortions and efforts to protect women from partner violence are both pro-life, or pro-human, positions. I responded that a hypothetical pro-life journalist might well make that argument, but I don't believe zygotes or embryos are human beings, so I wouldn't.)
As for the main question---what does the sheriff's office have to do with abortion?---I'd say: A lot. Not directly, of course---the sheriff isn't going to be making policy on abortion rights in King County---but the sheriff's office can be and has been a stepping-stone to higher office, including offices that can play a pivotal role in women's rights. For an example of that, look no further than former Republican sheriff, now-Republican US Congressman Dave Reichert, who voted against the Violence Against Women Act last month.