Monday, August 15, 2022
Aug. 15, 2022

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In Our View: Abortion rights questions sent to states, voters

The Columbian

The legality of abortion is a difficult issue on which reasonable people can disagree. Balancing the rights of the unborn against the rights of women to control their bodies has been fraught with philosophical and political weight for generations; the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalized abortion across the nation but only intensified passionately held beliefs on both sides of the issue.

With the Supreme Court overturning that decision Friday when it released its ruling in a case out of Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the issue is thrown to the states. Therefore, it is thrown to the electorate, emphasizing the importance of voting while reinforcing the mantra that elections have consequences.

In most states, abortion did not become illegal with the Dobbs ruling. But the decision — a radical departure from decades of legal precedence — serves to further exacerbate our divisions, providing a sharp demarcation between blue states and red states. It allows abortion rights to become an easily identifiable distinction between conservative and liberal.

Washington is one of 16 states that has codified abortion rights, as is Oregon. Abortion has been legal in Washington since a 1970 referendum, and a 1991 ballot measure expanded and protected access to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

This year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill prohibiting legal action against people seeking an abortion or those who aid them. The measure was a direct response to legislative action in Idaho, where chilling anti-abortion measures have been passed. “We know this bill is necessary because this is a perilous time for the ability of people to have the freedom of choice that they have enjoyed for decades,” Inslee said.

In Idaho, following a law signed this year, abortion is prohibited after six weeks of pregnancy. The measure allows the father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of a “preborn child” to each sue an abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000 in damages within four years of the procedure.

Similar restrictions have been passed elsewhere, demonstrating the vast divide that exists from state to state in a debate that is dominated by extremists on both sides. With roughly half the states certain or likely to ban abortion, Washington will be seen as a haven for many out-of-state residents seeking reproductive health care.

“To the citizens of Idaho, if Idaho will not stand up for your constitutional rights, we will,” Inslee said this year.

In truth, the decision should inspire voters to stand up for rights themselves.

Protection for abortion rights — or protection for the unborn — is now solely dependent on legislators who are selected by those voters, with the issue now subject to the vagaries of whichever party is in charge.

In modern American politics, there is little gray area or room for dissent within the political parties when it comes to abortion. The issue is largely a litmus test for party membership, with Republicans mostly hailing the Dobbs decision while Democrats decry it.

So, while the ruling stands as a significant landmark nationally, it will have little direct impact on Washington residents — unless voters make a different choice. Abortion now is a significant consideration in choosing legislators, the people who can strengthen or chip away at laws that protect access in our state.

Questions about abortion rights have been sent to the states. Washington voters should be prepared to answer those questions.

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