The impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected overturn of Roe v. Wade will be felt immediately in Washington. Not because our state is considering rolling back abortion rights, but because it is a haven for those rights.
Documents leaked Monday confirmed what was already suspected: The Supreme Court is likely to break with precedent and overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision that enshrined the right of a woman to end a pregnancy. A draft of the majority decision in a case out of Mississippi would leave decisions about access to abortions in the hands of the states.
The leak of the document is, in itself, unprecedented. Coming in a case that generates rapt attention, it has served as a bombshell of a news event. The court’s final decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is expected before July.
For Washington residents, overturning Roe v. Wade will have little direct impact. Our state is one of 16 that has codified abortion rights, a list that includes Oregon, California, Nevada and all of the Northeastern corridor. 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.
In March, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill prohibiting legal action against people seeking an abortion or those who aid them. The measure takes effect in June.
“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.
That peril is demonstrated by 23 states that have laws severely limiting or banning abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned. One of them is Idaho, where the governor this year signed a measure prohibiting abortion 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 abortion.
While there is room for debate about the viability of a fetus and the morality of abortion, the Idaho law — based on a similar one in Texas — is chilling. The vigilantism it promotes is a profound violation of the rule of law and reflects a discussion dominated by extremists who see no room for gray, only black and white.
Washington and Idaho demonstrate those differences.
“To the citizens of Idaho, if Idaho will not stand up for your constitutional rights, we will,” Inslee said.
For many residents of Idaho, Washington already has been viewed as a sanctuary of constitutional rights. Officials say that more than 40 percent of abortion appointments at Planned Parenthood’s Spokane Valley clinic are for patients from Idaho, a number that is expected to climb in the wake of the Idaho law.
And according to the Gutt- macher Institute, an abortion-rights research group, the overturning of Roe v. Wade would result in a 385 percent increase in the number of women whose nearest abortion provider is in Washington.
Being a bastion of abortion access is a mixed blessing. The hope is that such services are never needed, that Bill Clinton’s vision of the procedure being “safe, legal and rare” would come to fruition.
But the truth is that those services are needed, all too often by women who are unable to embrace any other options.
With much of the country intent upon eliminating abortion services, Washington must remain a haven for rights that have been in place for nearly 50 years.