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Washington State News

Overturning Roe v. Wade Would Have Little Impact on Washington’s Abortion Laws

(The Center Square) – If the landmark case legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade is overturned as suggested by a now-confirmed draft of a majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, not much would change in Washington state in terms of abortion law.

The Supreme Court draft ruling on a high-profile abortion case was created in February, according to Politico, which obtained the opinion and released it Monday. Per the draft opinion, the court would overturn two landmark cases, Roe, as well as Planned Parenthood of Southern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

The 98-page draft opinion is in regard to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization dealing with a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In the draft opinion, Alito argues, “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”

In 1973, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s ban on abortion, ruling abortion was a “fundamental right.”

In 1991, it granted review of a challenge to several Pennsylvania abortion restrictions in Casey, which included a question on the court overturning or reaffirming Roe. The majority reaffirmed Roe.

If the court ends up ruling as the draft opinion indicates, the abortion issue would be returned to the states, without federal courts having a say over the legality of abortion rules.

That means little would change in Washington should Roe be overturned.

That’s because abortions are more accessible in Washington, where state law protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy any time before the fetus is considered viable – that is, when it can survive outside of the womb. That’s generally considered to be about 24 weeks.

State law also allows pregnancies to be ended past 24 weeks, if doing so would protect the health or life of the mother.

Abortion rights in the Evergreen State were bolstered in April 2021 when Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1099 into law. HB 1009 requires college student health plan coverage that includes maternity care to “also provide a covered person with substantially equivalent coverage to permit the abortion of a pregnancy.”

There seemed to be bipartisan agreement among state legislative leaders about the strength of Washington’s abortion laws, if not abortion itself.

“In Washington state, our Democratic majorities have reinforced laws that guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion,” said Sen. Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, in a Tuesday morning statement. “But even though our state was prepared for this erosion of rights, now that this moment has apparently arrived, it is no less shocking. For the majority of my life, I have watched the Supreme Court expand and reinforce the rights of Americans – not revoke them. Unfortunately in recent years, we have seen this Court move in a different direction away from basic individual liberties. Our state will remain a beacon for choice and welcome people from other states who are being denied their right to choose.”

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, had a similar reaction.

“Washington state has a long history of supporting abortion rights, reinforced by the voters time and again over many years,” she said in a Tuesday statement. “House Democrats, along with Senate Democrats and the Governor, have assured we maintain a safety net of abortion providers and enhanced protections for the right to choose in Washington, unlike some other states that are rolling back this fundamental right.”

She went on to say, “Here in Washington, we will not allow these rights and protections to be taken away. In the Legislature, Democrats in both chambers have stood strong against repeated attempts by Republicans to undermine abortion rights in our state. In the 2022 session, bills to limit or prohibit abortion were introduced in both chambers by Republican legislators, but they did not go anywhere because the Democratic majority stood strong against these attacks on basic rights.”

“This Supreme Court opinion does not change much in our state,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said in a statement. “Democrats have been quick to point out that the law here in Washington continues to provide opportunities for abortion procedures. Whatever the law, whatever your politics, fewer abortions should be a common goal.”

The Senate Republican leader noted, “It is startling, though, that the draft opinion was leaked. If true, it’s not only illegal, it’s an unscrupulous attempt to manipulate public opinion.”

Braun concluded with a call for understanding on all sides of the issue.

“Unfortunately, this is already intensifying the acrimony in the debate over a very contentious issue,” he said. “People on both sides of this issue are very passionate about their beliefs. Hopefully this is a moment where we can all show grace.” 

University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer agreed with the lawmakers’ consensus that an overturning of Roe would have minimal impact on Washington’s abortion laws.

“It wouldn’t make any legal difference in Washington state,” he said in an email to The Center Square. “From a practical standpoint, we’re likely to get medical refugees from Idaho – women who are denied service there.”

In late October 2021, the pro-abortion rights research organization the Guttmacher Institute projected a 385% increase in demand for abortion in Washington state if Roe is overturned.