Months after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the controversial “Hobby Lobby” ruling allowing privately held corporations to deny payment for certain types of birth control for female employees, Washington lawmakers are finding ways to fight back. This is to be expected. Washington is one of the most progressive states on protecting reproductive rights. Just weeks before election day, some Democrats are using this issue as a strategy to put them back in control of the state Senate, led by the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus since 2012.
Voters should look deeper before they take the bait.
Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 2 at Bitter Lake Community Center, two blocks from a new Hobby Lobby store scheduled to open on Friday. Standing behind him, from left to right, are Democratic state Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Karen Keiser, Kevin Ranker, and David Frockt. (Credit: Thanh Tan / The Seattle Times).
On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers announced they are planning to file legislation — a “work-around” — next session to ensure employers do not deny women the full range of birth control options available to them through the Affordable Care Act. Joined by Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sens. David Frockt, Kevin Ranker, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Karen Keiser said they are drafting a bill that would likely use the state’s anti-discrimination and Human Rights Commission rules.
The press event was staged at a community center two blocks from a Hobby Lobby store scheduled to open Friday in Seattle at 13200 Aurora Avenue North. Good to know they are doing their homework, but this was clearly also a bid to secure the women’s vote ahead of the November general election.
In a press release distributed to reporters, the Democrats warned their efforts to fight the Hobby Lobby decision might be hindered if they do not take back the majority in the upper chamber. In particular, they targeted Republican Sens. Andy Hill, Steve O’Ban and Democrat-turned-Republican candidate Mark Miloscia. If “elected or re-elected this year, it is unlikely that any progress on ensuring individual reproductive choices will be achieved,” they warned.
Again, voters should be skeptical. There’s no bill in place yet to be opposed, or supported, by members of either party.
Washington State has long supported a woman’s right to privacy and access when it comes to reproductive health care, including abortion care. Even before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1972, this HistoryLink story explains how Washington voters passed Referendum 20 in 1970 legalizing abortion in the early months of pregnancy. In 1991, voters passed Initiative 120, which guarantees that every “individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control” and abortion (with few exceptions) and the “state shall not discriminate against the exercise of these rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.”
If this were Texas, where I used to report on women’s health politics from Austin, I’d say go all out. Fight the good fight. But it’s Washington, the friendliest state in the nation when it comes to reproductive freedom and lack of barriers to birth control and abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the state an A+ grade for choice-related laws. We don’t have lawmakers demanding transvaginal ultrasounds, slashing family planning funds or passing policies to force abortion clinic closures. Vigilance is appreciated, but state legislators’ priority during the next session must be to tackle the other urgent task of preserving the state’s fragile social safety net and funding public education.