Washington’s bold new abortion protections in spotlight at White House

A quartet of Democratic lawmakers are sharing how the state became a safe harbor for those obtaining and providing abortions.

By: - June 15, 2023 2:00 am

The White House South Lawn. (Getty Images)

Four Democratic state lawmakers will head to the White House on Thursday to share how Washington established itself as a haven for those seeking abortions since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision a year ago.

State Sens. Manka Dhingra and Patty Kuderer and Reps. Drew Hansen and My-Linh Thai will join legislators from 15 other states and senior Biden administration officials to discuss how states are moving to safeguard reproductive health care access since the court ended federal protections when it overturned Roe v. Wade.

“They’re inviting state leaders in reproductive justice to share ideas and learn from each other,” said Hansen, of Bainbridge Island, adding few states moved as quickly on as many fronts as Washington did this past year.

The half-day confab follows one conducted Wednesday by senior administration leaders with lawmakers from 25 states that have moved to ban abortion, restrict access to birth control and punish providers of reproductive health care.

Meanwhile Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and several colleagues unveiled legislation guaranteeing protections for a range of contraceptive methods, devices, and medications used to prevent pregnancy. Sponsors are worried the Supreme Court could overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 ruling that ensured access to birth control nationwide.

“Millions of people use contraception and have been for decades, and the vast majority of Americans support the right to birth control,” Murray said in a statement. “My message to Republicans who claim to support the right to just get birth control: now is your chance to prove it. Stand with us—not in our way.”

Introduction of the legislation and the White House events come ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Justices, in a 6-3 ruling issued June 24, 2022, concluded the U.S. Constitution “does not confer a right to abortion” and regulation should be left to the states.

In Washington, a voter-approved initiative in 1991 put abortion rights into state law. This past session, Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee and majority Democrats in both chambers fortified those rights with several new laws.

Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island (Washington State Legislative Support Services)

One authored by Hansen shields those who come to Washington seeking care from facing punishment in their home state where the procedure may be outlawed. It also limits law enforcement agencies in this state from cooperating with other states’ investigations involving the providing of reproductive and gender-affirming services.

Another limits co-pays for abortion starting Jan. 1, 2024. This eliminates a possible financial hurdle to obtaining reproductive care and services.

Inslee also signed laws restricting release of private health data and blocking other states from disciplining health care professionals who provide reproductive health services and gender affirming care in line with Washington law.

And, in one of the last moves, Inslee ordered the purchase of 30,000 doses of mifepristone, the most common method of terminating pregnancy in Washington. The amount is considered enough to cover demand for three years.

The stockpiling occurred in response to a federal lawsuit out of Texas aimed at ending distribution of the abortion medication. A separate federal lawsuit launched by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson would preserve access to mifepristone in this state and 17 others. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to eventually settle the question.

State Sen. Manka Dhingra speaks as the Washington state Senate convenes for a floor session on Feb. 28, 2023. (Washington State Legislative Support Services)

Dhingra, of Redmond, will be a presenter Thursday on a panel entitled Building a Powerful Policy Agenda. She said she’ll focus on the data privacy bill which she described as the first of its kind in the nation.

Known as the My Health My Data Act, it makes clear a business may not collect or share a consumer’s health data without the person’s consent. It specifically protects those who may seek information on gender-affirming care or reproductive services. Under the law, a person could sue if their personal information is shared without their permission.

With other states eyeing similar approaches, Dhingra said she’s going to stress the importance of uniformity.

“In order to do this right, we have to be sure other states follow suit,” she said.

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.