EVERETT — A decade ago, while living in Idaho, Angelene Little decided to have an abortion.
Her boyfriend at the time was abusive, she said, and having a child was not an option. She drove two hours, across the border into Washington, and paid $450 out-of-pocket to terminate her pregnancy. She did not have access to the procedure in Idaho.
“I cannot imagine what my life would look like if I had no access to money, or if Washington was further away,” said Little, now 31 and living in Seattle. “No one should be forced to give birth just because they have a uterus. I would have done anything to not have that man’s child.”
On Tuesday, Little was among millions across the country who rallied against a looming decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, undoing a federal protection of abortion rights in place since 1973. That possibility emerged Monday evening with the leak of a draft opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito, which argued each state should decide its own laws for reproductive rights.
In an interview, Little said the news left her feeling terrified and abandoned by lawmakers.
“It feels dystopian,” Little said. “How are we going to be the first generation of women whose daughters have less rights than us? This wouldn’t mean women won’t have abortions. It just means the abortions will be scarier and unsafe.”
Washington is one of roughly a dozen states with laws explicitly protecting abortion.
At rallies in Everett and Seattle, supporters of abortion rights voiced anger with the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, as well as fear that it will eliminate the availability of abortions in many parts of the country and a resolve to preserve access to safe and legal reproductive care in Washington.
“Washington state was a pro-choice state. Washington is a pro-choice state. We are going to fight like hell to keep Washington a pro-choice state,” Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said at the rally in Kerry Park in Seattle.
In Everett, about 50 people gathered Tuesday outside Snohomish County Superior Court to protest the potential overturn. Over the next hour, the crowd grew to over 100 people.
Protesters held signs reading, “Abortion Is Healthcare,” “My Freedom Begins With My Body!” and “First This Then What?”
The Everett rally was organized by Naomi Detrich, of Snohomish County Indivisible. She said she recalled attending a protest supporting the Roe decision in Seattle three decades ago.
“I’m 66 years old. I cannot believe I am here again,” she said, noting the battleground now is the ballot. “We have to get people to the polls. We have to elect people who will keep our rights in Washington intact, clearly for the rest of the country. We have to protect not only women in Washington state but the women in surrounding states who will need our help.”
Detrich urged people to vote in the November midterm elections.
Local lawmakers who spoke at the rally included state Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek; Snohomish County Councilmember Megan Dunn; Everett City Councilmember Mary Fosse; and state Rep. Emily Wicks, D-Everett.
Dunn told the crowd she was “pissed” that she and others have to constantly fight for reproductive rights.
“I woke up this morning and my heart was so heavy,” she said, “thinking about the women on the front lines and the people with uteruses that this is going to impact. Women of color and low-income families … the right to abortion is embedded in the right to privacy.”
Berg said people need to hold lawmakers accountable.
“If you are running, and you can’t say the words, ‘I am a pro-choice candidate,’ then you simply don’t have my vote, period,” Berg said. “This is not going to be the end of the assaults on our basic, fundamental human rights. This is the beginning. So we must be vigilant, we must be aware. But we also must be strategic.”
Wicks described herself as “seething with rage” upon reading the draft opinion. To many, the appointment of three conservative justices by former President Donald Trump made this moment seem almost inevitable.
“We expected this with everything going on,” she said. “I’m angry because we’ve been screaming from the rooftops and we’ve been warning people for years and trying to fight back.”
Because abortion will still be legal in Washington even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, women from other states are expected to travel here for care.
“They will be welcomed and they will be served,” Inslee said.
But it will impact the health care system, Wicks said.
“It is going to create delays and barriers for everyone,” she said. “There are not enough providers. There is not enough funding.”
Washington is one of only 19 states that provide accessible abortion to residents, according to Planned Parenthood, a national nonprofit that supports reproductive health. That number could dwindle drastically if Roe v. Wade is overturned, ending a half-century of the constitutional guarantee to abortion rights.
Washington was the first state in which voters approved a referendum legalizing early pregnancy abortions. That was 1970.
In 1991, voters narrowly approved Initiative 120, which declared that a woman has a right to choose a physician-performed abortion prior to fetal viability.
In recent years, Democrats have held majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office. They have used their political muscle to expand protections.
For example, in 2018 Inslee signed the Reproductive Parity Act, requiring all health plans that offer maternity care services to also cover abortion and contraception. This past session he signed the Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act, allowing advanced practice clinicians, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to provide abortion care. The law is intended to ensure there will be medical professionals in rural Washington who are able to provide services.
But the governor and a parade of Democratic lawmakers warned Tuesday that if Republicans get their hands on the levers of power, the long-cherished protections could disappear.
“Things can change quickly if the majority shifts,” cautioned state Rep. Brandy Donaghy, D-Everett. “It is something we do need to stand up for and make clear, that this is what we believe in, this is what is right and this is something we’re not going to back down on.”
Republicans, meanwhile, know little will change immediately in Washington, even if the half-century-old legal precedent is erased. They expressed concern the leak was done purposefully to fire up Democratic voters ahead of the 2022 election in which the GOP is poised to make gains in the Legislature and Congress.
“It is just going to create havoc,” said state Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R-Sultan. “There’s a good chance that Republicans were going to pick up seats and they had to get it out and stir the pot.”
Eslick said she had a pro-choice philosophy when she entered office in 2017. She’s now against abortion.
“What it looks like to me is it will be left up to the states to make their choices,” she said. “I will abide by the decision that voters make.”
State Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia called the leak “illegal” and “an unscrupulous attempt to manipulate public opinion.”
“Unfortunately, this is already intensifying the acrimony in the debate over a very contentious issue,” he said in a statement. “Hopefully this is a moment where we can all show grace. Whatever the law, whatever your politics, fewer abortions should be a common goal.”
At the Everett rally, Sue Libow, 63, held a sign with a picture of a coat hanger that read: “Never Again Is Now.” Coat hangers are a symbol in the pro-choice movement for dangerous, self-induced abortions.
Libow knew people in high school and college who needed abortions and were able to get them because of Roe v. Wade.
“I still support people’s right to do that, 50 years later,” she said.
Briana Barrett-Riddle, 24, of Everett, said the pending ruling will not stop people from having abortions.
“Healthy ones are going to stop,” she said. “I don’t know what I want, but I would like to have a choice to figure it out.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.
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