That Washington

Worried About Roe v. Wade? Abortion Rights Are Safe in Washington for Now

Abortion rights have been protected in Washington state since November 1991.

By Hayat Norimine July 3, 2018

Last week's announcement that Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy—a moderate conservative known to swing left for abortion and gay rights—would retire has Democrats and activists worried that his replacement means an end to Roe v. Wade.

Kennedy's departure gives president Donald Trump a chance to replace him with a more conservative justice and fulfill a promise to overturn the 1973 precedent, which protected women's access to an abortion as a constitutional right. That leaves women's rights advocates in a panic over the next pick; many women living in states that otherwise have no laws of their own could soon have very limited access to abortion. 

But in Washington? Abortion rights are safe. At least, for now. 

State voters passed Initiative 120—which protected abortion access, in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned—back in November 1991. That vote was narrow, a 0.08 percentage difference, but determined that the state can't deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose an abortion. 

Granted, that hasn't stopped Republican state legislators from trying to outlaw abortion in the state. Such bills have been proposed year after year, but failed to ever gain ground. And if the Democratic trifecta sticks after the 2018 general election—the state not only has a Democratic governor but is also in control of both the House and Senate—attempts to ban abortion would crash and burn. 

But Eli Goss, political director at the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) Pro-Choice Washington, said the one-seat majority in the Senate and two-seat majority in the House still leaves abortion access vulnerable; and legislation proposing to reduce access "have inched closer and closer each year," she said.

That's why NARAL Pro-Choice Washington fights especially hard for pro-choice candidates at the state level, and carefully tracks state legislative races that could pit strong challengers against an incumbent who historically has been anti-reproductive rights.

"This is really going to be the fight of our lives," Goss told PubliCola. "This will be such a telltale of what's to come, not just for our current generation but for generations to come."

Updated 5:21pm on July 3, 2018, after an interview with Goss. 

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