Kim Schrier, Patty Murray, and Democratic legislators at a press conference
Kim Schrier, Patty Murray, and Democratic legislators at a press conference (Photo by Senator Murray's staff)

Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray stood in trade­mark ten­nis shoes in front of the Sen­ate cham­ber on Wednes­day, hands clasped behind her back as her Repub­li­can col­leagues blocked leg­is­la­tion to cod­i­fy Amer­i­cans’ right to abor­tion care.

A long­time cham­pi­on of pri­va­cy and health­care, Mur­ray has sought to orga­nize and gal­va­nize Sen­ate Democ­rats in push­ing abor­tion rights to cen­ter stage in America’s polit­i­cal debate, in wake of a leaked draft opin­ion in which a Supreme Court major­i­ty appears ready to over­turn the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade deci­sion.

The wran­gling over abor­tion is the lat­est evi­dence of our polar­ized pol­i­tics. All fifty Repub­li­can sen­a­tors vot­ed to block the Wom­en’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act.

Only one Demo­c­rat, Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, joined them.

The Wash­ing­ton con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion is like­wise split down par­ty lines. Even the two Repub­li­can House mem­bers who vot­ed to impeach Don­ald Trump and occa­sion­al­ly cross par­ty lines are firm­ly in the anti-abor­tion camp.

“Extreme politi­cians should not have a way in a woman’s per­son­al deci­sions about her fam­i­ly and future,” tweet­ed Mur­ray, post­ed as the Sen­ate pre­pared to vote.

But from Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house, R‑Washington, under fire from the extrem­ist right for his Trump impeach­ment vote, came this mes­sage: “With the pos­si­ble Supreme Court over­turn­ing of Roe vs. Wade, will you join the fight for life?”

While the U.S. Sen­ate stood down, both King Coun­ty Coun­cil and Seat­tle City Coun­cil passed res­o­lu­tions endors­ing Roe and vow­ing to defend repro­duc­tive rights. After a grand total of twen­ty “where­as” claus­es, coun­ty law­mak­ers deliv­ered a mes­sage: “The coun­cil declares its sup­port of a woman’s right to repro­duc­tive free­dom and of Roe vs. Wade as set­tled law of the land.”

The lengthy res­o­lu­tion passed by an 8–1 mar­gin. The lone dis­senter was Coun­cilmem­ber Rea­gan Dunn, a Repub­li­can who is chal­leng­ing a vul­ner­a­ble Demo­c­rat, U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er, in the 8th Con­gres­sion­al District.

The dis­trict spans the Cas­cades, encom­pass­ing com­mu­ni­ties in east­ern Sno­homish, King, and Pierce coun­ties as well as Kit­ti­tas and Chelan coun­ties. It includes sub­ur­ban, exur­ban, and rur­al neighborhoods.

If you missed the movie “Twister,” watch what Dunn says and does on repro­duc­tive rights. His moth­er, the late Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jen­nifer Dunn, who retired in 2004, was a Rea­gan Repub­li­can, but pro-choice.

Asked about his stand while greet­ing fel­low guests at the Slade Gor­ton memo­r­i­al ser­vice, Dunn said he “shares my mom’s posi­tion,” but with restrictions.

Schri­er, a pedi­a­tri­cian, has described the draft opin­ion by Supreme Court Jus­tice Samuel Ali­to as “a dark day for women, and shock­ing for women old­er than me who lived through a time when this right was not constitutional.”

Although named for America’s for­ti­eth pres­i­dent, Rea­gan Dunn faces Repub­li­can oppo­nents who are poised to argue that he is not con­ser­v­a­tive enough.

Attor­ney and 2020 Attor­ney Gen­er­al can­di­date Matt Larkin and 2020 Schri­er chal­lenger Jesse Jensen have both tak­en emphat­ic anti-abor­tion stands.

Wash­ing­ton vot­ed to legal­ize abor­tion in 1970, three years before Roe vs. Wade was decid­ed by the Unit­ed States Supreme Court, and strength­ened abor­tion rights in 1991. Hop­ing to make leg­isla­tive gains, and take Schrier’s House seat, Repub­li­cans are hyp­ing infla­tion and crime while giv­ing a back seat to cul­ture wars. Dunn has tak­en to pass­ing out “Re-fund the Police” stick­ers. Larkin ran videos of street vio­lence in tele­vi­sion ads against incum­bent Bob Ferguson.

While forc­ing mem­bers of the Sen­ate to take a stand, the Democ­rats’ response to Alito’s blunt opin­ion destroy­ing Roe has lacked coor­di­na­tion and effectiveness.

The right wing has coa­lesced behind a par­ty line of being shocked – shocked!!! – that the opin­ion leaked, and denounc­ing pro-choice protests as row­dy and threat­en­ing. Mur­doch’s FNC has ban­nered protests at Catholic Churches.

“Where the hell is my par­ty? Where is the coun­terof­fen­sive?” asked California’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Gavin New­som, announc­ing mea­sures to defend repro­duc­tive rights in his state.

Next door in Neva­da, Sen­a­tor Cather­ine Cortez Mas­to is up for reelec­tion this year and is among the Democ­rats’ most endan­gered incumbents.

Which is where Mur­ray comes in. She is more insu­lar than the “mom in ten­nis shoes” we elect­ed thir­ty years ago, and faces a vig­or­ous, vocif­er­ous chal­lenge from Repub­li­can Tiffany Smi­ley, a for­mer nurse and vet­er­ans advo­cate from Pas­co. Smi­ley has declared her­self both “pro-life” and “pro-woman” but recent­ly told the Seat­tle Times that the issue of repro­duc­tive rights isn’t rel­e­vant to the Sen­ate race because Wash­ing­ton vot­ers have already spoken.

Mur­ray has been an ener­getic, pas­sion­ate advo­cate on issues of women’s health. The first Sen­ate speech she ever gave was ovar­i­an can­cer and the need for com­mit­ment of fed­er­al dol­lars.  She has used news con­fer­ences, often held at Planned Parenthood’s clin­ic on Madi­son Street, to decry Repub­li­cans’ pro­posed abor­tion restric­tions and anti-choice nom­i­nees to the Supreme Court.

Mur­ray is report­ed­ly work­ing with col­leagues on strate­gies for keep­ing the choice issue front and cen­ter. An ally from this Wash­ing­ton, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, took aim at Alito’s opin­ion this week, say­ing: “The dis­dain and dis­re­spect for women is pal­pa­ble through­out the draft deci­sion and we can­not allow our coun­try – that was found­ed on free­dom and lib­er­ty – to fall backward.”

A new CBS News poll has shown that Amer­i­cans, by a two-to-one mar­gin, sup­port the Roe vs. Wade deci­sion — even as thir­teen Repub­li­can-run states have enact­ed “trig­ger” laws spec­i­fy­ing that abor­tion will imme­di­ate­ly become ille­gal if the Supreme Court toss­es out the half-cen­tu­ry-old ruling.

Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell has hint­ed that fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion may be in the off­ing if Repub­li­cans take con­trol of the Sen­ate and House.

“Repub­li­cans want a ban on abor­tion,” Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell said in a Sen­ate speech this week.  “And if the Supreme Court and Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have their way, they will suc­ceed.”  The Repub­li­can Par­ty, she added, would yank repro­duc­tive health care back to “the Dark Ages.”

In Repub­li­can-con­trolled states, per­haps, but not all… at least not right away.

In his draft opin­ion, author and Bush appointee Samuel Ali­to said deci­sions on repro­duc­tive rights should go back to states and leg­is­la­tures. The opin­ion offers a bit of an “out” to our state’s Repub­li­cans, who can – and do – argue that the issue is set­tled here, abor­tion will remain legal, and “noth­ing will change.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R‑Washington, spoke at abor­tion oppo­nents’ annu­al March on Wash­ing­ton in Jan­u­ary. After the pub­li­ca­tion of the Ali­to opin­ion, she told KHQ in Spokane: “I would like to see a pro­tec­tion of life. I believe life should be pro­tect­ed.  I’d like to see each state make the deci­sion, I’m pleased that the court is review­ing (Roe vs. Wade).”

If Roe goes, the Inland Empire – which McMor­ris Rodgers rep­re­sents in Con­gress — may become a des­ti­na­tion and refuge for peo­ple seek­ing abor­tions in East­ern Wash­ing­ton when abor­tion becomes ille­gal in Ida­ho, Mon­tana, Utah, and beyond.

Not if Sen­a­tor Mur­ray can help it.

Mur­ray is ener­gized, but faces the chal­lenge of ener­giz­ing America’s voters.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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