It took a special session and a mass veto by Governor Jay Inslee to budge lawmakers out of their latest budget impasse, but the 2016 legislative session finally wrapped up last week.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of many of our legislative allies, inaction was par for the course this session, as legislators failed to act on bills that would have protected pregnant workers, advanced gender pay equity, and expanded access to contraception.
Meanwhile, right-wing lawmakers did their best to push bills aimed at constraining abortion rights and restricting access to abortion services for low-income women, including extreme new proposals that mirrored anti-choice laws in states like Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas.
During our visits to Olympia this year, we lobbied key legislators, targeted lawmakers who stood in the way of women’s reproductive and economic equality, held several events (culminating in a huge rally on the Capitol Steps featuring US Sen. Patty Murray), and testified at countless hearings about the importance of preserving and expanding women’s right to choose.
Choice includes the full range of reproductive health options, including healthy pregnancy. To that end, we fought hard for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a commonsense bill that would have required employers to provide reasonable accommodations, such as more-frequent restroom breaks, time off for prenatal care appointments, or temporary reassignment to lighter duty, for pregnant workers.
That bill died thanks to partisan deadlock in the senate, but we hope to revisit the proposal next year. We know there is broad consensus that pregnant workers shouldn’t have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck.
Other bills that didn’t move forward this year include legislation to allow women to obtain 12 months of birth-control pills, and a bill that would have extended equal-pay protections for women.
Anti-choice legislators also stood in our way this year by trying to move the needle on abortion rights, proposing bills that that would have banned sex-selective abortion, required parental notification for abortion for women under 18, and eliminated state Medicaid funding for abortion care.
Fortunately, we managed to hold off those onerous new restrictions with the help of our stalwart pro-choice champions. But we have to be vigilant, because our pro-choice majority is razor-thin. In this critical election year, with so much at stake, it isn’t enough to be passively pro-choice; we need champions who will actively fight to protect and expand the right to choose in Washington state.
Between now and November, we’ll be identifying and championing elected officials who stand with women by taking tough stands and pushing for bills that advance reproductive and economic equality. And we’ll be targeting those who stand in the way, by focusing our electoral and outreach efforts on lawmakers who propose new restrictions on reproductive health care and refuse to pass legislation, like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, that helps women succeed in the workplace while still making the reproductive choices that are right for them.
We’ll keep you updated throughout the year about opportunities to help us lift up true pro-choice champions, and oppose those who stand in the way of women’s reproductive freedom!