The Politics of Choice In Washington’s Senate Race

Amie Newman

In Washington State, anti-choice Republican Dino Rossi challenges incumbent U.S. Senator Patty Murray, one of the more staunch women's health and rights supporters in Congress.

The U.S. Senate race in Washington State is heating up. On one side, incumbent Senator Patty Murray, a staunchly pro-choice Democrat who has held the office for eighteen years. On the other, Dino Rossi – a wealthy businessman who served as a state senator and whose more recent activities involve running twice against (and losing to) Washington’s Governor Chris Gregoire.

Senator Murray has been one of the most active and vocal reproductive health and rights supporters during her tenure. In one of her more well-known advocacy efforts in the latter days of the Bush administration, the senator joined then-Senator Clinton in leading the successful charge to push the FDA to finally approve over-the-counter access to emergency contraception, said Gregoire at a press conference held to garner support for Murray. Gregoire also noted Murray’s role in increasing funding for family planning programs and access to discounted drugs including contraception.

On Tuesday, the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony’s List endorsed Dino Rossi – no small feat considering he’s earned the ire of most of the state’s anti-choice organizations including Human Life of Washington and the Washington Life Coalition. Both groups endorsed Rossi’s republican challenger, Clint Didier, claiming Rossi wasn’t anti-choice enough. Didier opposed abortion access even for victims of rape or incest.

“He has hidden his stance from the voters of Washington state now in two elections for governor…We shouldn’t let him hide because his vote will influence the whole country, if elected. He would turn his back on every women’s health issue,” says Gregoire.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Rossi has been traditionally close-mouthed on abortion and other women’s health issues in past campaigns, but his minimalism speaks volumes – as does his record as state senator.

It’s not fooling anyone – most of all, Governor Gregoire and Planned Parenthood Action Fund CEO Cecile Richards.

In yesterday’s press conference, Gregoire emphasized Dino Rossi’s regressive reproductive health and rights stance and spoke about her former challenger from experience.

“Rossi – in every debate we had – whenever the talk was about women’s issues his answer was always “that’s not a question for me, I’m not running for the Supreme Court. But now [if he gets elected] he would vote on confirmation of candidates to the U.S. Supreme Court and his record is clear. From the early days of his career [as a state senator] he has opposed a woman’s right to choose. Make no mistake – he would roll us back 100 years when it comes to accessibility and affordability of women’s health care.”

Richards, also present at the event, agreed.

“If you look at the abysmal record of Dino Rossi – he’s done nothing to improve access to reproductive health care. He’s sought ways to reduce it. In addition to opposing a woman’s right to access legal abortion services, he voted to allow insurance companies to deny coverage for birth control. This is unbelievable. He supports allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill legal birth control prescriptions.He’s opposed to common sense teen pregnancy prevention program funding.”

She went on, “Today there is a lot on the line – frankly, women can’t afford to have an extreme senator like Rossi representing them.”

Rossi’s record does reveal statements made about his clear opposition to abortion, votes as a state senator to push a parental notification bill, and even a proposition, along with fellow senators, to add “unborn children” to the definition of a person in the Washington state constitution.

Gregoire called Rossi “Incorrect and insensitive to women’s issues” stating that Rossi not only opposes women’s access to emergency contraception at pharmacies but pointing out that he likened the ongoing fight (in Washington state, pharmacists have been mandated to fill prescriptions but the state pharmacy board is now revisiting the rule) to “whether he could get one of his favorite sports drinks at his favorite store.”

Richards emphasized how critical the women’s vote is saying women will decide this election and others around the country.

Nearly one in five women visit Planned Parenthood for their healthcare. Richards noted women have “never had a better advocate” than Murray especially when it came to the health care reform bill. Murray worked with Planned Parenthood to oppose the anti-choice Stupak Amendment. Richards says women need Murray back in office.

When asked about the proposed cuts to the Washington State budget which include the subsidized family planning program Take Charge, cuts to maternity care services for lower income women and cutting health insurance for children, Gregoire became visibly angry and animated,

“When it comes to health care reform, Rossi is against any assistance to the state whatsoever. I am unbelievably upset about [these cuts]. When the mood in Washington is cover more…there is no question about the fact that this is difficult. What we say to women and famiies is –  if you put Rossi in the Senate he’ll amend the health care reform law and it will get worse. He’ll start with women’s healthcare, no question about it. We’ll get absolutely no help and no support. This is a critical time in the history of healthcare. Are we going to elect Rossi who will turn his back or will we support Murray?”

Senator Murray recently released a television ad to highlight Rossi’s opposition to women’s rights and health access asking, “Can we trust a man who wants to turn back the clock?”:

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.