Every day in the state of Washington, upwards of 60 abortions are performed. That amounts to more than 20,000 women receiving abortions in our state alone, which represents about two percent of the 1.2 million performed annually in the U.S.
It is one of the most divisive issues state governments face, one that cuts bipartisan lines sharply, and one that was certainly a wedge issue in last year’s gubernatorial race between Rep. Jay Inslee and Republican candidate Rob McKenna.
Even President Obama has infamously struggled with the highly controversial political matter of abortion during his political career. And it is no longer simply a debate about who has the right to determine the fate of the woman and her would-be child. Battles are now waged over the details: whether she must tell her parents or see a psychologist first, and of course, who will pay for it.
According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, three out of four Americans support abortion rights, the one championed by women’s rights and abortion activists. That statistic is almost undoubtedly higher for those living in a state as progressive as Washington.
However, the trend in state legislature for decades across the nation has been to inch away from public opinion and towards placing restrictions on abortion through legislation. Since the landmark victory abortion rights activists achieved in 1973 with Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion activists have been steadily losing ground.
But not in Washington. And not in New York.
While abortion remains federally legal, the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey gave states the right to regulate abortion so long as they don’t introduce legislation that imposes an “undue burden” on women, though some states have worked hard to make abortion all but illegal by eliminating providers and inventing impossible loopholes. The trend at the state level in recent decades has been toward legislation that is increasingly anti-abortion, even as polling shows most Americans in favor of women’s productive rights.
Bucking that trend, Washington has introduced House Bill 1044, the Reproductive Parity Act, to combat what abortion activists see as a threat to women’s rights. This is in response to a growing concern that when the Affordable Care Act is enacted, abortions will no longer be provided by insurers as part of normal maternity care.
The act, according to proponents like Elaine Rose, chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, is designed to “reinforce a value that Washingtonians have affirmed time and time again. We want to ensure the decision to choose remains up to the woman rather than the insurance company, the government or especially politicians.”
The measure will likely pass through a Democratic-controlled House but may face opposition in the Republican-dominated Senate, though Gov. Jay Inslee has already made his position clear.
“Washington women need the freedom and privacy to make the health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. That’s why I look forward to the Legislature sending the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk, which I will sign.”
Opponents of the bill are citing the “conscientious objector aspect, asserting that they refuse to be forced to “pay for murder.” Peggy O’Ban of Human Life Washington in a statement told reporters that “Americans will be forced by their government to pay for the taking of human life in violation of conscience for the first time in the history of our nation.”
In addition, opponents insinuate that the measure will jeopardize Washington’s chances of receiving federal medical funding.
Advocates answer those concerns by pointing to language in the bill that invalidate any parts of the bill that violate federal law and provide provisions to carriers who object on religious grounds, according to The Herald Business Journal.
Perhaps following Washington’s lead, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed what he calls the Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point measure that includes, most notably, ensured access to late-term abortions for any woman whose life or health is in danger. He, like Gov. Inslee, will face opposition in the Senate, where opponents worry that late-term abortions in particular will become all the more prevalent in New York, a state where abortion legislation is moving in the same direction as Washington, counter to the rest of the nation.
According to leader of the Senate Republicans, Dean Skelos, “you could have an abortion up until the day the child would be born, and I think that’s just wrong.”
There has been a definite shift toward the anti-abortion measures in government, even as polling shows 75 percent of Americans holding a
Perhaps it is the public’s general discomfort with the unyielding stance of such activists, who refuse to acknowledge any kinds of limits on abortions or the procedure, maintaining that is must remain completely between a woman and her doctor.
But perhaps a progressive state like Washington, where measures like Initiative 502 and Referendum 74 have already legalized marijuana and won a landmark victory for gay rights activists, reflects the changing future of our nation.
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