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.