Commentary: What abortion laws elsewhere mean for our state

Supporters of abortion rights in Washington state still face challenges to protect reproductive health.

By Sara Kiesler

For The Herald

Yes, Washington is a beacon of hope for supporters of abortion rights. But we have more work to do.

This week’s news has been crushing for reproductive freedom advocates and millions of women across the country.

Alabama’s full-stop abortion ban was signed into law Wednesday, without even exceptions for rape or incest. States like Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio recently passed six-week abortion bans, before most people could know they are pregnant. Missouri passed an eight-week abortion ban on Friday. As early as this week, the U.S. Supreme Court — including five notably anti-abortion male justices — could decide whether it will hear Indiana’s fetal remains and mandatory ultrasound laws.

The goal of every one of these states is to be the challenge that overturns the monumental Roe v. Wade decision from 1973 that guarantees a pregnant person full rights to privacy in determining their own pregnancy decisions, up until viability of the fetus.

Here in Washington, there is a sharp inhale from activists and leaders alike as we look around the country. Based on the leaders we elect, we strongly believe that women and their families should be the ones making their own private pregnancy decisions. We feel proud of the work we have done to guarantee abortion rights in our state Constitution before Roe v. Wade was passed. And we are incredibly grateful to leaders like Gov. Jay Inslee who has signed into law further protections, including the Reproductive Parity Act, which ensures all insurance plans that cover maternity care must also cover abortion.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to face our own challenges. As a board member of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, I watched in vain while our staff fought to strengthen our sex education laws (SB 5395, HB 1407) and pass more protections for patient care (SB 5542, HB 1608), only to have these bills die in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.

In addition, our state is targeted because of its progressive reproductive health laws. In Everett, our clinics face daily protests and harassment from rapidly expanding anti-choice activist group Operation Save America. Plus, the great legislation we have passed already faces challenges in the courts.

I am also a volunteer on the Northwest Abortion Access Fund hotline, where we serve clients in Alaska, Idaho, Washington and Oregon who seek financial help to cover their procedure. While a majority of our callers are from Idaho, where Medicaid does not cover abortion for low-income people and they are forced to sometimes sell their car or return Christmas gifts to pay for their $600 abortion, there are also pregnant people here in Washington who are stuck in limbo, left with the choice between paying rent, childcare or an abortion.

We can and should turn our eyes to the desperate lack of clinics in the MidWest and the South, as a right without access is no right at all. But we must also bolster our own reproductive health access here in Washington and continue to push our leaders to be strong advocates unafraid of standing up for reproductive freedom. While Washington leaders passed a law this year to extend insurance protections of abortion to immigrants and transgender residents, the bills that died in the Legislature did so because leaders were afraid of taking a “political risk” by championing reproductive health access. We can do better.

Right now in Alabama, the threats are real. A doctor can be punished by up to 99 years in jail for performing an abortion. Also, there is nothing in their new ban that distinguishes protections for women who have a miscarriage, adding a potential heartbreaking possibility of jail time to those already experiencing the pain of losing a wanted pregnancy.

If we truly want to be a beacon of hope in Washington — and I know we do — let’s strengthen sex education, protect our patients and ensure no one who suffers from a miscarriage can be threatened by the law. With courage and conviction in our belief that everyone, regardless of their income, deserves the full range of reproductive health care access, then we can truly build a better world for the future of all pregnant people.

Sara Kiesler lives in Seattle. She is a board member of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, a volunteer on the Northwest Abortion Access Fund hotline, and a freelance communication strategist. Email her at sara.kiesler1@gmail.com.

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