New federal rules on abortion threaten choice

Like the right to free speech and the right to bear arms, the right to a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional guarantee -- the 1973 Supreme Court landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade made it so.

But this year nine states passed laws banning abortion completely or outlawing it after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. One intent of these restrictive laws is to spark a legal challenge and return the abortion argument back to the Supreme Court.

Even if you’re conflicted about abortion, as some members of this editorial board are, it should be evident that regulating a woman’s reproductive choices and criminalizing a constitutional protection is wrong.

Today, in Alabama, doctors who provide abortions regardless of reason, be it rape, incest or health of the mother, could face up to 99 years in prison. The Georgia legislature just made it permissible for the state to prosecute and imprison women who terminate their pregnancies.

“Lock her up,” isn’t just a refrain reserved for Hillary Clinton.

In Missouri, the last remaining abortion clinic is on the brink of extinction, something our colleagues at the Kansas City Star attribute to the “relentless and unconstitutional campaign against women.”

To be sure, the campaign to remove a near half-century-old precedent has amplified fear and has many Washingtonians asking, “Could it happen here?”

The short answer is “no.” Credit 1991 Washington state voters for approving Initiative 120, also known as the “Reproductive Privacy Act.” The measure reaffirmed abortion rights and guaranteed that low-income women would also have access to reproductive healthcare. In fact, ours was the first state in the nation to codify access to abortion into law, and one of the few states to do so.

Still, when Brett M. Kavanaugh was sworn in as the newest Supreme Court Justice last October, joining President Trump’s other conservative appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, pro-life conservatives around the state and around the country had reason to hope.

Former state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who heads the Family Policy Institute of Washington, recently told the editorial board that Washington conservatives are encouraged by what is happening around the country, but they’re also realistic.

Miloscia says the anti-abortion strategy in Washington has always been “to seek more parameters” like the ones present in Initiative 1004, a measure that requires parental notification for abortions performed on minors. (Miloscia has good reason to believe I-1004 will show up on the 2020 ballot.)

But with progressive majorities in the House and Senate, not to mention a governor who would sooner tattoo a picture of President Trump on his chest than sign any anti-abortion legislation, pro-choice proponents needn’t worry. For now.

Gov. Inslee even took to Twitter saying he voted against the the ban on federal funding for most abortions in 1993, saying, “The Hyde Amendment was wrong then and it is wrong now. Reproductive health care is health care. Period.”

What should concern Washingtonians are two recent federal rules – “the gag rule” and “the conscience rule.”

The gag rule, which went into immediate effect on Thursday after a federal court lifted injunctions, prohibits Title X funding to any healthcare facility that provides abortions or refers women to other facilities for abortions. Most national medical organizations are against the regulation because it affects mostly low-income and uninsured women.

If poor women can’t access the same healthcare wealthier women can than the option of “choice” is taken off the table.

Andrew Everett, communications specialist for Planned Parenthood Northwest says the organization is worried what the “gag rule’ will mean for thousands of Washington women, but says Planned Parenthood remains committed to providing abortion care.

The “conscience rule,” will go into effect July 20, and could be equally detrimental. Issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this edict gives health care professionals broad discretion to refuse care regardless of medical necessity, even if the patient’s life is at risk.

Any state that doesn’t comply with these new rules could face severe sanctions. It certainly jeopardizes the $10.5 billion in federal funding Washington receives each year.

No matter where you sit on the abortion divide, any assault on free speech or any attempt at financial coercion shouldn’t sit well. It’s why Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration.

U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell recently joined members of both the Senate and House to introduce the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would create further safeguards on what is now a legal medical procedure.

It’s a rhetorical gesture at best, given this political climate, but Senators Murray and Cantwell took their oaths to defend the constitution seriously, and right now, even in our progressive state, that constitutional protection could one day be overturned.