Abortion Care, Birth Control Access, War on Women, Women's History Month

Women’s History Month: The Erosion of Abortion Law in the US

The Erosion of Abortion Law

Washington State is one of the few states that has protected a woman’s right to choose again & again.

On November 3, 1970, Washington voters approved Referendum 20, which legalized abortion in the early months of pregnancy. Fifteen other states had liberalized their abortion laws by that time, but Washington was the first — and so far the only — state to do so through a vote of the people.

What came to be known as Referendum 20 permitted abortions performed by a licensed physician within the first four months of pregnancy with the consent of the woman’s husband, if married and living together, or legal guardian, if under the age of 18, was approved by voters in November 1970, making Washington the first state in which abortion was legalized by popular vote, with a majority of 56.6 percent.

Most of the new law’s restrictions on abortion were overturned in the courts during the next few years, beginning in 1973 with the United States Supreme Court’s historic ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade. In a 1975 case involving Dr. A. Frans Koome, a Renton abortion provider, the Washington State Supreme Court set aside the law’s provision for parental consent. Several subsequent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that neither her parents (if she is a minor) nor her husband (if she is married) could deny a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Washington voters have expressed their sentiments on the issue several times since 1970, most recently by approving Initiative 120 in 1991. In contrast to Referendum 20, which simply amended an existing law, Initiative 120 repealed the law and replaced it with one that declares that “every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions” (Revised Code of Washington, chap. 9.02, Initiative Measure No. 120, 1991). Perhaps in a reflection of the deepening divisions about the issue of abortion, the initiative passed with a much slimmer margin of approval than did Referendum 20, squeaking by with an edge of only 4,222 votes out of 1,509,402 cast.

Washington, let’s make history again in 2013 by passing the Reproductive Parity Act, which would guarantee that all insurance providers that offer maternity care in our state also include abortion coverage in their policies!


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