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Washington State News

Washington Democrats bet big on Abortion Rights for Elections

(The Center Square) – Democrats in Washington state are working hard to make sure abortion is on voters’ minds when they cast their ballots later this year.

In the aftermath of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and sending the question of abortion back to the states, Democrats in the Evergreen State have pivoted to making sure the issue is front and center, believing it can help them to maintain their majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Meanwhile, in the other Washington – D.C. – the theory is Democrats are in for an electoral shellacking during the midterm elections and are in danger of losing their slim majorities in the U. S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

In politically blue Washington, a poll earlier this month by the Northwest Progressive Institute – before the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe – found that a majority of voters preferred that Democrats retain control of the state Legislature. Of 1,039 voters surveyed, just over half – 51% – said they wished to see a Democratic-run Senate, 42% indicated a preference for the Republican Party in that regard, and 7% expressed no preference.

Nevertheless, there are indications Washington Democrats are at least a little nervous about the prospect of Republican gains, and are intent on harnessing progressive outrage at the Supreme Court’s abortion decision to retain their legislative majority in a state President Joe Biden won in the 2020 presidential election by almost 20 points.

On the same day of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe, Washington’s longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray began airing advertisements attacking her Republican opponent, Tiffany Smiley, by linking her to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

“You think women’s reproductive health care is safe here in Washington?” a doctor identified as a gynecologist asks in the advertisement. “Not with Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate in the U.S. Senate, Tiffany Smiley.”

At the state level, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday called for a state constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Washington, accusing Republicans of stacking the nation’s highest court in the process.

“We have to understand, because of this Republican assault on women’s rights in this state, without a constitutional amendment to solidify this right under our state’s constitution, we are one Republican majority [away from] losing the right of choice in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “Accordingly, I will be asking the legislators to pass a constitutional amendment under our state’s constitution to protect women in our state.”

Abortion has been legal in Washington state since a 1970 statewide ballot referendum. In 1973, that referendum was superseded by Roe v. Wade. In 1991, voters approved an initiative codifying the expansive protections of Roe into Washington state law.

“Abortion was legal in Washington state before Roe v Wade has been legal here for more than 50 years, and remains legal now,” Washington State Department of Health said in a Facebook post. “Washington state has a long history of supporting the full spectrum of reproductive rights and will continue to do so. At the Washington State Department of Health, we work to make sure that sexual and reproductive health services are available across the state.”

State Republicans are not buying Democratic claims that the right to abortion is threatened in Washington.

“Today’s decision does not affect the law here in Washington,” Senate Republican leader Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said in a press release shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Even my Democrat colleagues have been quick to point out that our laws protect access to abortion procedures.”

Washington State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich was blunter in his assessment of Democrats’ plans to use abortion as a referendum on reproductive freedom at a time of skyrocketing gas prices and record-breaking inflation.

“The voters will see through his blatant fear-mongering tactic in November and will cast their votes for change on the top issues they are consistently telling us about at their doorstep: restoring public safety,  restoring affordability, and restoring accountability between our political leaders and the voters – all areas where Democrats are failing miserably,” he told The Center Square on Monday.

The statewide primary election is on August 2. The general election is on November 8.