Trump administration appears to be the only threat to abortion rights in Washington state

The Future of Roe v. Wade: 3 Scenarios, Explained

Will a Supreme Court with two Trump-appointed justices overrule the right to an abortion? It’s possible, but not the most likely outcome. Adam Liptak, The Times’s Supreme Court reporter, explains.
Up Next
Will a Supreme Court with two Trump-appointed justices overrule the right to an abortion? It’s possible, but not the most likely outcome. Adam Liptak, The Times’s Supreme Court reporter, explains.

Abortion rights supporters in Washington state say there’s no chance that any of the anti-abortion bills approved recently around the country will become law here, but lawmakers should do more to ensure access to reproductive health care.

Many stress that the biggest threat to abortion rights continues to be federal rule changes from the Trump administration.

Anti-abortion activists, meanwhile, say they’re engaged in perhaps a decades-long effort to elect a governor and legislators who would place restrictions on abortions.

Despite the odds, they plan to press ahead with anti-abortion legislation next year in Olympia. They also hope to trigger a statewide referendum to prohibit persons from performing abortions on those under the age of 18 without providing 48 hours notice to parents or legal guardians. That notice would not be required for physician-certified medical emergencies.

Last month, Alabama’s governor signed a bill into law that makes performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases and does not provide an exception for rape or incest. Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio recently banned most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, at about six weeks of pregnancy. Missouri enacted an eight-week ban. Several legal challenges have been filed.

With Democrats holding the governor’s office and majorities in the House and Senate, Washington state will not pass anti-abortion restrictions like the ones in those states, said Rep. Eileen Cody, the West Seattle Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

“Even if, God forbid as I usually say, the Republicans took over the Legislature and the governor’s office, I think whatever got passed probably would be on the ballot in short order and repealed,” said Cody. “The people of the state of Washington have been pretty firm in their belief that this is a choice between a woman and her doctor.”

In this year’s legislative session, Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, sponsored a bill to abolish abortion. There were three co-sponsors — all Republicans, including Rep. Jesse Young of Gig Harbor — but the bill didn’t get a committee hearing.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington, a conservative religious group based in Lynnwood, is working with other groups on legislation for the 2020 session that would be similar to ones passed in several states, including Missouri and Ohio, said executive director Mark Miloscia.

A final decision has not been made on details, said Miloscia, a former one-term Republican state senator who served as a Democratic House member from 1999 to 2013.

“The chances of passing in this state are probably slim, but we think it’s good to have a good public discussion,” he said.

Nancy Murray is a Richland resident and abortion opponent.

“I think we will see more radical pro-abortion legislation in Washington like in New York and Illinois, where they’ve expanded abortion to be able to be performed by mid-wives or nurse practictioners,” said Murray, a blogger and volunteer spokeswoman in the Tri-Cities for 40 Days for Life. It is a Texas-based group that campaigns against abortion.

Sara Kiesler, a board member of the National Abortion Rights Action League Pro Choice Washington, referred to the state as a “beacon of hope” for supporters of abortion rights.

For example, Washington does not require abortions to be performed in a hospital. In South Dakota, that’s required at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Public funding of medically necessary abortions is required in Washington. In Idaho, public funding is limited to cases of life endangerment, rape and incest.

Washington does not have a waiting period for an abortion after counseling, because counseling is not required. In Alaska, the waiting period is at least 48 hours.

Abortion rights supporters have advanced their agenda over several years in Washington.

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law requiring that health insurance companies provide abortion coverage in their plans if maternity care is also provided. That law took effect Jan. 1.

Kiesler, a Seattle resident who is a volunteer on the Northwest Abortion Access Fund hotline, said the Legislature has more work to do.

Lawmakers this year failed to pass HB 1608 or its companion bill SB 5542. The bills would have barred hospitals from preventing health care providers from discussing abortion with patients, among several other topics.

Cody, the chairwoman of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, said the bill would be a priority during the 2020 session.

“It didn’t force the hospitals to do abortions, and I don’t think that will ever pass. But it prevented the gag rules, so at least doctors could tell everybody about (abortion),” she said.

Kiesler said a law is needed given that about 40 percent of hospital beds in Washington state are in religious-affiliated hospitals.

In Bellingham, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is a 253-bed facility. It is part of PeaceHealth, a not-for-profit Catholic health system with hospitals and clinics in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

“In the case of PeaceHealth, they refuse to offer abortion care or contraceptives, but in my experience doing outreach about this issue, most folks don’t realize that this is the case,” said Morgan Steele Dykeman, legislative affairs manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

“Needless to say, we believe that the decision if, when, and how to have a child is deeply personal. No one — not the state nor a religious institution — should be making that decision on behalf of another person,” Dykeman added.

PeaceHealth encourages physicians to verbally discuss all potential care options available to the patient, spokeswoman Bev Mayhew said in an email.

“Direct, elective abortion is not performed in any PeaceHealth-owned, operated or leased facilities. All PeaceHealth medical centers comply with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requiring hospitals to provide care to any patient experiencing a medical emergency, including pregnancy-related circumstances, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay,” the statement said.

Abortion rights supporters in Washington say the biggest threat comes from the White House.

Kiesler, the board member of NARAL Pro Choice Washington, said President Trump has hewed closely to the GOP strategy of eroding abortion rights through changes to federal rules and his appointments to the Supreme Court.

“I do not doubt that there will be a continued onslaught — both in the states in their rush to be the first to overturn Roe vs. Wade — but also in these rule changes that will continue to impact millions of people across the country who don’t even know that their rights are being eroded,” she said.

In March, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the Trump administration over its “gag rule” that would have affected Title X, the federal funding program for reproductive health care and family planning services. The Trump Administration’s new rule would impose a “gag” on providers that prohibits them from referring their patients to abortion providers, Ferguson said.

“If not blocked, the rule will force out of the program health care professionals who provide nearly 90 percent of Title X family planning services to Washington patients, keeping thousands of vulnerable Washingtonians from reasonably accessing contraception, cancer and (sexually transmitted infections) screening and other family planning care,” according to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office.

A federal judge granted Washington’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the new rule from taking effect nationwide.

Last month, Ferguson filed another lawsuit against the Trump administration, challenging its “conscience rule,” which he said “gives health care professionals broad discretion to refuse lawful and medically necessary care to patients for religious or moral reasons, even when the patient’s life is at risk.”

The lawsuit states that if the rule is implemented, it would restrict access to reproductive health care, particularly for low-income, rural and working poor patients. It also enables providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people, Ferguson said. The lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

Miloscia, the executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said he supports Trump’s actions.

“Politics 101 is that if you can’t change or nullify the law, you change the rules. That has been going on since our country was formed,” he said. “One administration comes in and changes the rules. And then a different administration comes in with a different (political) party and puts them back in.

“What we want is a law, which is more permanent than a rule or an executive order. Obviously, the top thing is we want the Constitution changed because we think Roe v. Wade was a complete and utter rewriting of the Constitution.”

Related stories from The Olympian