Just How Anti-Choice Is Republican Candidate Dino Rossi?

Amie Newman

Is Washington State congressional candidate and former state senator, Dino Rossi, not anti-choice enough for his fellow GOP-ers?

Is Washington State U.S. Senatorial candidate and former state senator, Dino Rossi, not anti-choice enough for his fellow GOP-ers? Or is the Republican party’s anti-choice political stance becoming splintered, with the help of extremist candidates a la the Tea Party when it comes to reproductive rights perspectives? 

Rossi is making another run for public office; he’s run for governor twice (2004 and 2008) – and lost twice – to Democrat Governor Christine Gregoire. Now, he’s trying to unseat three-term Democrat Sen. Patty Murray. Rossi won this week’s primary, making him Washington’s Republican party candidate for senate. One of Rossi’s Republican challengers was former NFL-player Clint Didier (who, by the way, was endorsed by Sarah Palin in this race), a man who is ardently anti-choice from “conception to death”; does not support abortion access for rape or incest victims; is endorsed by Human Life of Washington; and supported by the Washington Life Coalition  – a group which believes emergency contraception causes abortion and that Rossi isn’t “serious about ending legalized abortion.”

Didier and his anti-choice supporters, including the state’s most vocal anti-choice groups as noted above, have claimed throughout the race that Rossi is “soft” on abortion. Rossi’s attempt to remain a more moderate Republican candidate has been supported by his refusal to address reproductive rights with real clarity on the campaign trail.

In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 2004, during Rossi’s gubernatorial run against Democrat Gregoire, his refusal to campaign on the issue was addressed:

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In 1991 Rossi campaigned against a statewide initiative to legalize abortion. A Catholic, Rossi has said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. He supports requirements that parents consent before minors are given abortions and also supports bans on third-trimester abortions.

When Gregoire tries to corner him on the issue of embryonic stem cell research, Rossi won’t say where he stands ideologically. He opposes gay marriage but would rather discuss his regulatory reform plans.

Rossi argues that those issues are irrelevant to his gubernatorial campaign. “I’ve never sponsored any bills on” abortion, he recently told a newspaper editorial board. [emphasis added]

However, as Laura Onstot writes in The Seattle Weekly this week, his record as a former state senator certainly speaks volumes:

Throughout Rossi’s time in Olympia, there was a small group of staunch pro-life legislators regularly sponsoring bills preventing clinics providing abortions from getting a health care exemption from the state sales tax or receiving public money. Another required doctors performing abortions to describe the unborn fetus to a pregnant woman considering the procedure.

Rossi wasn’t a primary or co-sponsor on any of those bills, most of which died in committee. But in 1998 when a parental notification bill made it to the Senate floor, Rossi joined his fellow Republicans in voting it through. The bill never made it to a vote in the House.

And there was one bill wherein Rossi was a co-sponsor. It also happened to be the one bill during his time there that, if passed, could have led to a comprehensive abortion ban in this state. In 2000 Rossi and nine other Senators proposed adding unborn children to the definition of a person in the state constitution. That would mean that fetuses couldn’t be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process,” as stated in that document. That bill also died in committee.

Now the anti-choicers are calling foul on each other. Writes Nina Shapiro in her article Last Ditch Attacks on Dino Rossi Provoke GOP Bickering, Conservative pastor and Rossi supporter Joe Fuiten “devoted an issue of his online newsletter to defending his candidate’s anti-abortion record.”  At issue in particular is Rossi’s support for a 2002 state bill turned into law, SB 6537, which, reports Shapiro, “requires hospitals to offer morning-after pills to women who are raped.” Didier and his “wing” of anti-choicers in the GOP are enraged that Rossi supported access to what they say is an abortifacient. The Washington Life Coalition explains that, because one of the potential ways in which emergency contraception works is to create an inhospitable environment for a fertilized egg to attach to the walls of the uterus, a “tiny baby” (aka a fertilized egg) may be killed in the process. However, Fuiten addresses Rossi’s support of the bill by noting that the bill was supported by the Catholic Bishops,

“The charge that the bill which Rossi supported is “against Catholic, Christian, and pro-life values” is refuted by the support the Catholic Bishops gave to the bill. The language of the bill is clear enough that it is not about abortion. The law says it deals with “… health care treatment approved by the food and drug administration that prevents pregnancy, including but not limited to administering two increased doses of certain oral contraceptive pills within seventy-two hours of sexual contact.” Maybe the point is too fine for some, but abortion, which terminates a pregnancy is not the same as “preventing pregnancy”.

Rossi has also claimed that he would not apply a “litmus test”  to Supreme Court nominees when it comes to abortion. This, again, does not sit well with some  hard-core anti-choice supporters.

However, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, there is no question when it come to Rossi’s reproductive rights position. Rossi is as anti-choice as they come.

While Rossi has always been an anti-choice conservative, he tried to avoid the issue in his 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial races in an attempt to appear moderate.  After declaring his candidacy for the Senate, Rossi’s public statements on the right to choose have become increasingly conservative and demonstrated just how far out of step he is with the majority of Washingtonians.

“NARAL Pro-Choice Washington led the charge to expose Rossi as anti-choice during his attempts to become governor, and we are again mobilizing our statewide network of members and activists to make sure he does not become Washington’s junior senator,” Ms. Simonds said.

According to a fact sheet produced by the organization, Rossi opposes “funding for family planning for low-income women” and “the right to choose safe and legal abortion care” but supports abstinence-only programs as well as parental notification for abortion. 

It remains to be seen whether Rossi will successfully position himself as a more moderate voice of the Republican party and win over enough Washington State voters or if, as has happened in the past, he’ll fall to his Democratic challenger in a state which has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections. As for the splintering in the GOP when it comes to the question of “who can be more anti-choice?” Rossi and his former challenger Clint Didier certainly played out an interesting performance; are the extreme anti-choice elements of the Republican party exposing real fissures in its own party or is this just a case of one closed-mouth Republican candidate refusing to show his real hand?

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