By eliminating the constitutional right to privacy for women, six justices gave state legislators the right to make abortion a crime
The day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating a constitutional right that had stood for nearly 50 years, much of Washington revolted. Thousands of pro–choice protestors took to the streets of Olympia and Seattle in response to the Court’s June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization.
Katie Rodihan, Communications Director of the parent to Olympia’s Planned Parenthood, told me that the day that the Dobbs decision came out, dedicated activists in Olympia put together an emergency action at the Capitol:
“We had to put out a quick last–minute ask to our most dedicated volunteers in Olympia. We expected something small, but… we ended up getting a full rally, filling the Capitol steps.”
Washington state law protects a woman’s privacy right
Washington is considered a “sanctuary state” for abortion access, with more than 50 facilities throughout Washington that offer abortion services. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of adults in Washington State believe abortion should be legal in almost all cases (these are pre–Dobbs statistics.)
Chapter 9.02 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) protects abortion for Washington residents in broad strokes. Abortion is legal up until the point of viability—a term that references the point in pregnancy where a fetus could survive outside the womb without medical assistance, usually between 24 and 26 weeks. The law imposes no waiting period for those seeking an abortion, and minors do not require parental consent.
Blurring the line separating church and state
The six Catholic justices who decided Dobbs reflect the position of a Catholic church that, according to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in an interview with the Religious News Service, “has prayed for Roe’s reversal for years.” The church has been “working for the cause of life by providing services—medical services, pro–life pregnancy centers, educational services, charitable services, adoption services,” not unlike services provided by Options Pregnancy Clinic in Olympia.
Options Pregnancy Clinic (OPC) in Olympia is the only alternative to Planned Parenthood shown when you search online for “abortion” in Olympia. However, this religious organization, like certain other “birthing centers” in the state, does not actually perform abortions or refer pregnant women to places they can get an abortion.
According to their website, OPC is “an outreach ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ through His church.” OPC “wants to be the first contact made in challenging pregnancy situations” so as to be “your go–to source as you deal with your unplanned pregnancy. Via their self–reported statistics, over 1,800 people visited the clinic in 2018, and over 300 pregnancy tests were conducted.
They claim to give “the latest and most accurate information” on abortion for educational purposes. However, the information provided in the abortion education section of their website offers no citations or sources, instead warning women of the “risks and consequences” of abortion, urging unsure women to “talk to someone on our knowledgeable staff” to make an informed “pregnancy decision.”
What they urge is adoption, highlighting claims that adoption will remove financial burdens and give you “peace of mind” if you are uncomfortable raising a child at “your current stage of life.”
In case there is any doubt, Options affirms the strict religious basis for their pregnancy counseling. In a press release from this past May, Options representatives stated that “the premeditated killing of an innocent life is the destroying of an image bearer of God and is expressly prohibited in Scripture.” Above all else, they want their visitors to birth their child, no matter what.
With each state now able to “regulate abortion as its citizens wish,” the doors are open to Republican–controlled legislatures acting on religiously motivated beliefs to determine their state’s abortion laws. Even in the Evergreen State, abortion is not as cut–and–dry a proposition as one might think. In 2019, a handful of Washington legislators put forward the “Abolition of Abortion” Act, classifying abortion as murder and making it a felony. The bill, which died in committee, was similar to criminalization laws newly adopted in other states.
Washington will feel the impact of Dobbs
Many states are implementing trigger laws to ban abortion once the decision overturning Roe becomes official. Some states are including criminal measures aimed at abortion providers as well as other penalties that would affect women seeking an abortion. One result will be to push desperate pregnant people to Washington’s borders.
According to The Guttmacher Institute, Washington will likely see a 385% increase in the number of out–of–state patients coming here for abortion care. With a location in reach of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, all states that severely restrict abortion access, Washington laws offer out–of–staters the opportunity to receive a safe and legal abortion.
Following the Dobbs decision, Governor Jay Inslee affirmed that the state would serve as a sanctuary for out–of–staters seeking abortion services, issuing an executive order that prohibits the Washington State Patrol from aiding investigations of non–residents seeking abortions in Washington.
Thurston County’s most prominent and trusted provider is Planned Parenthood Olympia. To get a sense of post–Dobbs attitudes, I talked to Katie Rodihan, who, as noted, is the Communications Director of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky—the parent of Planned Parenthood Olympia.
“There’s no doubt about it, the overturning of Roe was devastating,” Rodihan said. She explained that although Washington is a safe state for abortion access, the impacts of the Court case will still be felt here.
“It’s been heartbreaking to listen to the hurdles that some of these patients are overcoming to get what should be basic healthcare. We’ve already seen patients coming from out of state—Texas, Tennessee, Alabama. Everywhere.”
As the post–Dobbs dominos start to fall, Planned Parenthoods throughout Washington brace for an increase in patients from all over. “We’re expecting the biggest increase to come from Idaho,” explained Rodihan. A “trigger” ban on abortion access recently went into effect there. So, “we can start to see that surge in the fall.”
It’s not the end…just a setback
By rejecting the reasoning in Roe v. Wade as “egregiously wrong,” Justice Alito, writing for the Court majority, rejected any constitutional right to privacy and set a new precedent that could be used to overturn other foundational rulings related to intimate life matters, ranging from same–sex marriage to birth control and potentially more. “Abortion rights, access to birth control, gay marriage—all of these things are potentially on the chopping block,” said Rodihan.
Rodihan talked with me on the phone while juggling her “kiddo” on her arm after a long day of navigating Indiana’s legislative threats to abortion. “Don’t give up,” Rodihan tells Olympians worried about the current state of abortion and the right to privacy. “It’s not the end, it’s just a setback. We’re going to be here for the long term. We’ve got some wonderful organizers in Washington turning our emotions into real action. Stay hopeful.”
Annabel Gregg is a graduate student at NYU Wagner School of Public Service. Annabel was a reporter for three years at the Greenwich Journal in Upstate New York and lived in Olympia this past summer as a policy intern.