Constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights stirs support, protest

By Reneé Diaz

and Alexandria Osborne

WNPA News Service

Mary Le Nguyen stood in front of a group of 70 abortion-rights activists on the Capitol steps for a “reproductive freedom rally” in early January and she shared her personal story of being a survivor of sexual abuse.

“This is not about power shifting from here to here. I want people to like us to have the power,” Nguyen said, as she protested with Pro-Choice Washington. “I want us all to be more powerful, but that means we need to slow down together and see that reproductive justice is more than just about abortions.”

This legislative session marks the first since Roe vs. Wade was overturned and House Democrats say they want to pass a number of bills protecting abortion rights.

One bill will need voter approval.

Senate Joint Bill 8202, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, proposes amending the state Constitution to guarantee an individual’s right to have an abortion or choose contraception.

For the bill to move forward, it needs a two-thirds majority in The House and Senate before being placed on a statewide ballot for approval.

“We need to face the potential consequence of not having a constitutional guarantee for reproductive freedom,” Keiser said.

“Reproductive freedom is not just about abortion,” said Sequim’s Vicki Lowe, from American Indian Health Commission for Washington State. “This is not a decision to be made by the government. I never thought to think my children and grandchildren would have fewer rights than I did. Reproductive freedom is about choosing what happens to our bodies.”

Gov. Jay Inslee attended his first bill hearing of the legislative session in support of SJR 8202.

“A woman’s right of choice is so fundamental, in the most intimate decision of her life, it cannot be left to the whims of who happens to sit on the bench, or who happens to sit in the Legislature,” Inslee said.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, a co-sponsor of SJR 8202, also spoke in favor of passage.

“There’s been a call to restore reproductive justice across this country from all age groups, from young people who are most impacted, to working parents and to the older population who marched and sacrificed to earn the right to choose,” Kuderer said.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and other Washington lawmakers, including House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma; Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma; Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma; Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane; and Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle; and Sen. Emily Randall D-Bremerton, joined protestors at their early January rally and delivered speeches on the abortion rights bills they are planning to pass this legislative session.

While Democrats seem mostly united in support of the measures, a large number of people across the state signed up to oppose the measure at its public hearing.

For online testimony, 309 people signed on in favor, and 608 signed on in opposition.

“I gave birth to a beautiful daughter who is now 27 years old. I can’t imagine this world without my daughter, and I do not live with the regret of ending a life,” Julie Barrett, president of Conservative Ladies of Washington, said.

The “reproductive freedom rally” in early January was countered by a group of 15 anti-abortion activists across the street. They wore bright red t-shirts and held signs that showed photos of fetuses 10 weeks old. “Am I human?” some of the signs asked.

But many people at the hearing and at the protest said they were shocked when Roe vs. Wade was overturned.

Proposed law shields businesses from out-of-state abortion claims

Washington State employers will receive tools against retaliation from states with anti-abortion laws if a bill presented in the Senate is passed.

Senate Bill 5260, by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, is one of five reproductive rights bills presented to the Senate on Jan. 24.

“I thought perhaps Washington State should try and create a safe harbor for the companies in our state who are trying to help their employees in anti-abortion states,” Keiser said.

Keiser said she worked on SB 5260 because she has seen states like Florida and Texas who threatened retaliation against companies who offered reimbursement for travel costs to employees who sought out-of-state abortion services.

SB 5260 would allow employers in Washington to recover damages and costs associated with an out-of-state judgment where liability is based on providing assistance for reproductive care services. An employer would be allowed to file a civil action against a retaliating party to recover damages, costs and other equitable relief.

Until Jan. 1, 2033, the bill would provide a public utility or business and occupation tax credit for charitable contributions made to certain organizations providing reproductive healthcare services.