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Law

What would happen in Washington state if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

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The Associated Press
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The U.S. Supreme Court building.

A leaked draft of a majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito suggests the Court could soon overturn Roe v. Wade. If that landmark 1973 decision is overturned, states could pass abortion bans. What would this mean in Washington state?

Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins talked about that, live, with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.

Listen to the conversation above or read the transcript below.

Kirsten Kendrick: Austin, let's start with what Washington law currently allows regarding abortion.

Austin Jenkins: Well, Kirsten, Washington law is strong in terms of abortion rights, protections for both minors and for adults. According to the advocacy group Legal Voice here in Washington, abortions are allowed for any reason prior to fetal viability, which is approximately 24-25 weeks into the pregnancy. Later term abortions are allowed to protect the health or life of the person carrying the fetus. Additionally, in Washington, insurance companies that cover maternity services are required to also cover the cost of an abortion. Washington voters also have a history of upholding abortion rights at the ballot. In 1991, they approved Initiative 120 that declared a woman's right to choose physician-performed abortion prior to fetus viability. And Kirsten, voters have rejected efforts to restrict access to and funding for abortions. Generally, polls in Washington have suggested pretty broad support for abortion rights here in the state.

KK: Have there been recent changes to the law?

AJ: There have. In fact, this year, Democrats, majority Democrats in the state legislature, passed a law that does a couple of things. It formally expands the list of health care providers who are authorized to terminate a pregnancy to include, for instance, physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners. This could potentially address what's been viewed as a shortage of abortion providers in the state. The new law also prohibits criminal or civil legal action against someone who seeks an abortion or helps someone obtain an abortion. This is not happening in Washington, but this was in response to states like Texas passing laws that allow private citizens to bring lawsuits and win damages if they learn of someone who's violated Texas law and gotten an abortion or help someone obtain one.

KK: Well, I imagine this next question is one on the minds of many this morning. What would happen here if Roe versus Wade was to ultimately be overturned?

AJ: At this point, it's my understanding that under current Washington law, the overturning of Roe v Wade would not have an immediate effect or impact here in this state. Washington law would remain in place on the books. The Supreme Court decision would not overturn that. But I think it's important to note, Kirsten, that this is state law. It's not in the Constitution. And so the state legislature has the power pretty much at any time, certainly when it's in session, to decide whether to expand or curtail access to abortion. And that's based on who controls the legislature in most years, if not every year, there are bills introduced to restrict access to abortion in Washington. So, in other words, Washington's current access to abortion regime, if you will, is codified in law. But it is certainly not enshrined.

KK: If the right to an abortion is guaranteed here. Could we possibly see an influx of abortion seekers from states like, let's say, neighboring Idaho?

AJ: Yes. In fact, the Spokesman-Review newspaper is already reporting this morning that, in their words, Washington is set to become an "abortion haven state." It is expected that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will be made illegal in neighboring Idaho. In fact, Idaho has already passed a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, although that is on hold in the courts for the moment. But already coming to Washington is an obvious choice for people in Idaho seeking the termination of a pregnancy. The Spokesman-Review reports that abortion providers in Washington are are already saying that they're seeing more patients following passage of the Texas law. By the way, in looking at Washington Department of Health data, it appears that Washington's rate of abortion in the state has dropped by about half since 2000. So over the 20 years. So for that, as we talk about maybe people coming into the state, here in the state, abortions are happening less often.

KK: All right, Austin, thanks so much.

AJ: You're welcome.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Vivian McCall is a reporter, producer and host at KNKX. Originally from Texas, Vivian spent the majority of her journalism career in Chicago. She loves having fun with sound and digging into cool science stories.
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