by Lawrence Wilson
Two Washington state senators have proposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the rights to obtain an abortion and to use contraception in the state, both of which are already codified in state law.
The proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 8202, was filed Dec. 21 by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, and Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee according to a joint statement from the lawmakers.
The proposed amendment reads, “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom decisions, which includes the individual’s fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and the individual’s fundamental right to choose to use contraception.”
The rights to choose abortion and contraception are already protected in Washington law, as the amendment itself states.
Referendum 20, passed in 1970, legalized access to abortion in Washington. Initiative 120, passed in 1991, added that an abortion may be obtained at any time prior to fetal viability.
Washington law RCW 18.64.011 permits pharmacists to provide contraception. Another law, RCW 70.41.350, requires all hospitals having emergency rooms to offer emergency contraception as a treatment option to anyone seeking treatment after a sexual assault. Government entities in the state are mandated to provide abortion benefits in any health care plans, which are equivalent to any maternity coverage provided, according to RCW 9.02.160.
While proposing the amendment, Keiser and Kuderer acknowledge that Washington already has among the strongest protections for abortion rights in the nation.
“In the nationwide fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling, one thing became clear: Washington state is a national leader in protecting the right to choose,” Kuderer said in a statement. “We have more protections for providers and patients coming in 2023 to guarantee the right to an abortion remains safe and legal in Washington. We will remain a state that safeguards healthcare for all.”
Keiser warned that Washington statutes could come under further scrutiny in the future.
“After the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical decision to repeal that right, our state has a responsibility to step up and guarantee that every Washingtonian retains the fundamental right to choose when and whether to have children,” she said in a statement. “The Court’s recent actions setting aside state laws is a signal that state statutes need the backing of clear and specific constitutional rights.”
The amendment proposed by Keiser and Kuderer would also have the effect of stipulating that the rights to abortion and contraception are already found in three provisions of the Constitution of the State of Washington:
Article I, section 3, which states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,”
Article I, section 7, which states, “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law,” and
Article XXXI, section 7, which reads, “No standing army shall be kept up by this state in time of peace, and no soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of its owner, nor in time of war except in the manner prescribed by law.”
Amendments to the Washington Constitution require passage in both legislative chambers by a two-thirds majority and ratification by a majority vote of the public. If passed by the Legislature in the 2023 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9, the amendment would be put to voters in the next general election held in the state.
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