If abortion is the litmus test for voters in northwest Washington, then their choice will be clear. The contrast is stark between Democrats and Republicans running for Congress and the state Legislature this year.
Democrats staunchly support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions. Republicans, for the most part, are avowedly pro-life, but some stop short of calling for a strict abortion ban with no exceptions.
Cascadia Daily News readers considered abortion among their top priorities heading into the Nov. 8 election. Only homelessness ranked higher in CDN’s Citizens Agenda survey.
The debate over a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy is arguably more relevant at the state level than it has been for the past half century, given the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade. The 1973 ruling had legalized abortion at the federal level.
Going forward, states will set abortion laws.
Republicans in the state Legislature are clearly intent on restricting abortion rights. Washington law currently allows anyone, regardless of age, to decide on their own to get an abortion until the fetus is able live outside the uterus, or about 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Over the past two years, Republicans have introduced at least five bills to limit abortion rights in Washington, including a parent-notification requirement, a ban on abortion medications and a ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
A pro-life sign sits off the Guide Meridian. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
When asked if they would support similar legislation, Republican candidates in local elections were evasive. Simon Sefzik, running to retain his seat in the Senate for the 42nd Legislative District, said he would need to see a bill in its entirety before expressing an opinion on it. Dan Johnson, the Republican candidate for one of the House seats in the 42nd, said the same thing, as did Dan Matthews, who opposes U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen in the 2nd Congressional District. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a bill in Congress last month that would ban abortions after 15 weeks.
Matthews, at least, was willing to elaborate somewhat on his position on Graham's bill. He said any legislation in Congress should include funding to support adoption.
“If I go to Congress, my entire congressional salary is going to go to crisis pregnancy centers in the 2nd Congressional District, because I'm going to practice what I ... say,” Matthews said. “And what I'm saying is, adoption is a better option.”
Matthews also said the decision to abort in rape or incest cases should be made by families, not the government.
With signs and flags, dozens gather for a rally for reproductive rights outside of Bellingham City Hall on Oct. 8. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Larsen stated his position succinctly.
“I am the only pro-choice candidate in this race,” the 11-term congressman said. “I have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record.”
Tawsha Dykstra Thompson, a Republican and former Bellingham police officer running against incumbent Democrat Alicia Rule for a 42nd District House seat, said she is pro-life but supports exceptions for rape and incest.
As a police officer, Thompson said, she investigated cases of incestuous child rape that led to pregnancy. “I would never advocate for saying you have to keep [the child in those cases],” she said.
In an interview, Rule was typical of other Democrats in affirming her pro-choice stance.
“I support a woman’s freedom to do whatever they need to do with their body, period,” she said.
Rep. Sharon Shewmake, the Democrat running against Sefzik in the Senate race, and Democrat Joe Timmons, who opposes Johnson, said they support an amendment to the state constitution that would enshrine the right to an abortion in Washington. Shewmake, who has served in the House the past four years, said proponents don’t have enough votes to get a constitutional amendment through the Legislature.
Timmons and other Democrats said people who support reproductive rights in Washington shouldn't be complacent.
“Call it, honestly, privilege of being a man maybe, but I didn't realize fully until recently how under attack this issue is,” Timmons said. “I thought we live in a state where access to abortion health care is always going to be that way, and it's not. We need to stand up more than ever to protect it.”