A bill that would strengthen reproductive rights for Washingtonians in the state’s constitution sparked passionate remarks, both in support of and in opposition to the proposed amendment, during a legislative meeting on Tuesday.
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Members of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee held a public hearing for Senate Joint Resolution 8202. The bill would amend the state constitution to provide that the state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom decisions, including the fundamental right to choose to have an abortion, and the fundamental right to choose to use contraception.
Gov. Jay Inslee testified in support of the bill. He said last year’s US Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade upset 50 years of established precedent in the country guaranteeing a woman’s right of choice.
“What we considered fixed in the American constellation of democratic values turned out to be very fragile,” Inslee said. “And we cannot be lulled into thinking that same thing cannot be the case in the state of Washington.”
Inslee noted that legislators must remain vigilant in protecting abortion rights, as multiple bills have already been introduced in this session to limit a woman’s right of choice, to limit who can perform abortions, and to punish abortion providers.
“I respect all legislators in the legislature,” he said. “But no matter how intelligent they are, or how wise they are, or how gifted they are, I do not believe any legislator has the right to order any woman in the state of Washington to undergo a forced pregnancy. I believe this right of choice needs to be included in our constitution.”
Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) is a sponsor of Senate Bill 5098, which would prohibit abortion on the basis of down syndrome. He addressed Inslee during the meeting.
“I know this is an issue that a lot of people in our state have very strong personal views on,” Padden said. “Do you believe there are any situations at all where abortion should not be allowed? Or do you believe it should be allowed at any time for any reason in our state, regardless of the viability of the unborn child?”
Inslee said his feelings on the issue, to some degree, are irrelevant.
“I think the fundamental issue before the legislature is whether my feelings or beliefs, or your feelings or beliefs, ought to dictate a decision to a woman,” Inslee said.
Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) also sponsored the bill, and said lawmakers need to face the potential consequences of not having a constitutional guarantee for reproductive freedom.
“It is my hope that the members of this committee will remember the healthcare repercussions these kinds of abortion restrictions can have,” Keiser said. “Because I know healthcare is your first concern.”
Julie Barrett, founder and president of Conservative Ladies of Washington, testified in opposition to the bill.
“An unborn child is not a clump of cells,” Barrett said. “We do not get to decide at what point a life is worthy enough to live. Amending our constitution to make abortion a right is to say that it is OK to take the life of another human being.”
Barrett noted that the committee has passed pro-abortion laws in the past.
“I realize that this body, at large, does not agree with my views,” she said. “You’ve already passed plenty of pro-abortion laws protecting the ability of women to get an abortion in this state. Adding it to the constitution is not necessary. The law is settled here. The fear-mongering must stop.”
The bill would need to garner some GOP support in order to pass both legislative chambers. Committee staffer Julie Tran said in order to amend the constitution, a joint resolution must be passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature.
If it is approved by lawmakers, the bill would then be presented to voters in November’s general election.
“To be enacted, the proposed amendment must be placed on the next general election ballot, and it must be approved by a simple majority of voters,” Tran said.
Washington voters approved Initiative 120, which codified Roe into state law, in 1991. It declared that every individual possesses the fundamental right of privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions.
“With those rights now codified in statute, this bill would ask voters to approve or reject a new article to the constitution,” Tran said.
A total of 918 people signed into the meeting to record their stance on the issue without testifying, with 309 supporting the bill and 608 opposing it.