‘Roe v. Wade’: WA officials, advocates react to Supreme Court ruling

The right to abortion is protected in Washington. But the rollback could have 'dangerous consequences' for the state's healthcare system and beyond.

four young people hold signs at a protest

From left, Reed Francis, Amelia Payne Garcia, Maleigha Parker and Shea Deskins gather with thousands of others outside the Federal Building in downtown Seattle to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn historic abortion case Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

Democratic officials and advocates in Washington state are slamming the U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning the constitutional right to an abortion.

The court put decisions about abortion right back in the hands of the states, which is likely to mean an increase in people seeking the procedure traveling to Washington state, where abortion remains legal.

The decision had been anticipated for weeks, after a leaked draft surfaced early last month in the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case that considered Mississippi’s 16-week abortion ban.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland, a Democrat representing Tacoma and South Puget Sound, called the decision overturning Roe v. Wade “a full-on assault on women’s freedoms …”

“This decision will also have dangerous consequences for women and families in the South Sound, and across this country,” Strickland said in prepared remarks. “It means that 26 states can now move quickly to ban abortion - with millions of women losing access to reproductive health care.”

“And it is a dangerous step toward the ultimate goal of the extreme, anti-women movement: A nationwide abortion ban that would block a woman’s right to choose access in every state in the country, including Washington,” she added.

Carrie Campbell, a mother of two adult daughters who was participating in a protest in downtown Seattle late Friday afternoon, called for solidarity in response to the Supreme Court decision.

"It makes me feel really angry my daughters aren’t going to have the right to choose. And exhausted. I keep saying that word. There are women out here older than me and I can’t believe we’re still out here fighting for the same thing,” said Campbell, 52.

Verna Harms, 75, said she didn't expect the protest would be very effective. "We have very little influence on the courts, that’s for damn sure. But you have to come out.”

On the arc of watching Roe pass nearly 50 years ago and now seeing it overturned, Harms said, "They passed [Roe] not because they thought it was wonderful. It’s because women were dying unnecessarily. And we will go back there.”

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, meanwhile, said he will continue to protect abortion in Washington and to help both people traveling here and medical professionals in other states.

“I will use every tool to defend this law, and we will fight every legislative effort to remove these fundamental protections,” Ferguson said in prepared remarks.

“Moreover, I will use my authority to ensure Washington welcomes any individual who comes here to access the fundamental right to reproductive justice,” he added, “I am already working to protect medical professionals who are prosecuted in other states for providing essential health care services that are legal and protected in Washington.”

Ferguson spoke this week at a Crosscut event about how this Supreme Court ruling could jeopardize other civil liberties

Thousands gather outside the Federal Building in downtown Seattle to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn historic abortion case Roe v. Wade. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

Shortly after the court’s ruling Friday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee, along with the governors of California and Oregon, announced a pact to “be a safe haven for all people seeking abortions and other reproductive health care services,” according to a news release.

“More than half the nation’s population now lacks safe access to a medical procedure that only a patient and their doctor can and should make for themselves,” Inslee said in the news release issued jointly with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Instead, law enforcement, vigilantes and judicial systems can force patients to bear the burdens of forced pregnancy and birth.”

That pact includes an eight-point commitment from the three governors to defend access to reproductive healthcare, such as abortion and contraceptives, according to a copy of the pact. 

Among other things, Inslee and the two other governors vow to protect against efforts by states opposed to abortion to target patients receiving legal reproductive healthcare services on the West Coast. The governors also pledge to protect against courts and local law enforcement from cooperating with out-of-state investigations or arrests connected to people inquiring about or seeking abortion or reproductive healthcare here.

The pact also pledges to support patients accessing reproductive healthcare here, and to refuse non-fugitive extradition of people for criminal prosecution for receiving legal reproductive healthcare services.

Cutouts of the faces of five conservative Supreme Court justices are held above the crowd outside the Federal Building. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

Paul Dillon of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho on Friday afternoon called the ruling “devastating.”

Planned Parenthood clinics in Eastern Washington have already seen increases in patients coming from out of state amid the uncertainty, particularly Idaho, according to Dillon, vice president of public affairs for the organization.

For example, roughly 63% of patients going to the Pullman clinic in Whitman County this year have been coming from Idaho, he said, up from last year’s 41%.

The organization has been hiring more staff and will look for stronger protections from the Legislature, such as safeguarding workers and patients “from punitive invasions of privacy,” he said.

Dillon also worried about extremist groups appearing at clinics more persistently or in greater numbers. He noted that former state Rep. Matt Shea on Friday was promoting on Facebook “an evening of praise and worship” at the Spokane clinic.

Shea has led group prayers previously at the clinic, including one that in 2020 may have violated a court order, according to a report in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Shea declined to run for re-election in 2020 after an independent investigation by the House found he planned and participated in domestic terrorism against the United States during and before the armed occupation at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Shea has denied those allegations.

The downtown protest remained peaceful throughout. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

In Washington, where voters have given Democrats control of the governorship and attorney general, most of the Congressional delegation and healthy majorities in the state House and Senate, the Republican response to the Supreme Court decision was muted.

State Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, in a statement pointed out that abortion remains legal here.

“However, better support for pregnant women who choose to give birth should be a common goal for all of us, regardless of our politics,” Braun said in prepared remarks. “Compassion and empathy, rather than hostility, should be the universal approach. I’m hoping this is how we all move forward.”

In a statement, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, went further, calling for the Legislature to consider bans on “sex-selection abortions, the elimination of abortions based on Down’s Syndrome, and a ban on late-term abortions.” Those proposals are extremely unlikely to advance while Democrats hold the Legislature and governorship.

The Washington Catholic Conference applauded the court’s decision, and tied that stance to its broader work.

“Upholding the dignity of every human person drives us to care for the poor, to welcome immigrants, to seek racial and social justice, and to oppose abortion,” according to a statement signed by the bishops of Seattle, Spokane and Yakima. “We commend the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and give individual states the opportunity to enact laws that respect life. We welcome this opportunity to reduce the number of abortions in the United States and build a culture of life.”

Washington might see a 385% boost in patients from out of state seeking care, including from nearby Idaho, according to projections from the Guttmacher Institute. 

Abortion providers here have been preparing for such increases. For instance, a new clinic was announced to open in Yakima, spurred by the impending Supreme Court ruling.  

Washington is one of only 16 states with laws to preserve abortion and officials like Inslee have already floated the idea of an amendment to the state constitution to enshrine abortion rights.

Reporter Josh Cohen contributed to this story.

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