There’s a wonderful line in Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette in which the protagonist notes one of the more distressing aspects of Seattle life: By the laws of geography, she lives in Washington, a state that borders Idaho.
Friday marks the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision that a woman’s right to privacy extends to her choice to have an abortion in America. In Seattle, safe and legal access to abortion can feel like a moot point, a given. And in many ways, thankfully, it is.
But like Bernadette, we must remember that we live in a state that borders Idaho, which puts us far closer to the fight over reproductive freedom than anyone should be four decades after Roe v. Wade. We needn’t look far back in history to know this to be so, as false accusations of Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue emboldened abortion foes in our own backyard in recent months.
This fall, state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane, whose district clings to the Idaho border like a slug to an outhouse, said at a rally: “There is no difference between Planned Parenthood and what [Nazi] Dr. Josef Mengele did in Germany during the 1940s.”
Around the same time, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, also R-Spokane, also of a district glued to a certain panhandle, voted to defund Planned Parenthood in the United States. “What kind of a country are we if we accept that these procedures are somehow acceptable?” asked McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking woman in the House. On the same day, she voted yes on a bill that would put doctors in prison for performing abortions.
On Monday, The Seattle Times reports, state Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, whose district smacks into Idaho like a bird into a picture window, met with several high-school students lobbying for better insurance coverage for reproductive health. Dye found it apropos to ask these teens, exercising their other constitutional right to petition their government, if they were virgins.
In September, the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Pullman, a morning walk from the border, was struck by arson—a frightening precursor of the massacre that took place in Colorado two months later. The Pullman clinic remains closed to this day.
Tempting as it is to write off these events as further proof that Eastern and Western Washington just aren’t meant for each other, in fact they put the onus on Seattle residents to take an active stand on abortion rights.
On a political level, the actions of both the Republican-led Congress and state Senate have made frustratingly clear that a vote for a Republican is a vote for a leadership regime that will go to great lengths to attack abortion rights. Conventional wisdom in Washington politics states that all the votes Democrats need to win a state majority can been seen from the Space Needle, but in recent elections Republicans have successfully nibbled at the edges of this turf. Along with taking the State Senate—allowing abortion foes like Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley—yes, a district bordering Idaho) to chair influential committees—the GOP has also made gains in the House, knocking off four Democratic incumbents in 2014. Another election like 2014’s, and Republicans could hold the legislature. The governor’s mansion appears more secure, though Republicans are sure to try to leverage the Department of Corrections early-release flap to their advantage.
In other words, Seattleites can’t take it for granted that Washington will remain the blue bastion it has recently been. 2016 is a year to engage, be it in your own district or a neighboring one where progressives could use your help. Every campaign needs door knockers and a $20 donation, and Puyallup is just a 30-minute drive away.
But more important, the rhetorical attacks on abortion rights—the comparisons to Nazi camps, the threats to lock up physicians—emanating from our own state should be met head-on with equally forceful defenses. Seattle’s own Lindy West and Amelia Bonow created a global phenomenon this summer when they began to talk openly about their abortions. These courageous women will speak at Town Hall on Friday about their plans to continue to fight the stigmatization of abortion, and deserve a packed house. Women should never be asked whether or not they are virgins. But nor should they be ashamed to avail themselves of a right that a near-unanimous Supreme Court affirmed nearly half a century ago.
And lastly, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Idaho is in the process of rebuilding their clinic in Pullman. We know there are women just over the border in Moscow who’d be thankful if you’d donate to help them do so.