Jun 28, 2022 - News

Washington's abortion law could serve as a model for other states

Photo illustration of Stewart Jay.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo courtesy of University of Washington School of Law

A 1991 ballot measure in Washington that protects women's abortion rights could serve as a blueprint for other states in the wake of last week's leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, its primary author told Axios.

  • "It's not a model law in the sense that every state should take Washington's initiative and adopt it word for word, but I do think it's a model in that we codified the major tenets of Roe v. Wade," said Stewart Jay, a professor emeritus of the University of Washington Law School and principal writer of Initiative 120, the 1991 measure.

Background: Washington became the first state to approve a ballot measure safeguarding Roe v. Wade's abortion rights when voters narrowly approved I-120 more than three decades ago.

  • The measure guaranteed abortion as a choice for all women.
  • I-120 also provided state funding for abortions for low-income women.

Why it matters: With Roe newly overturned, the legalities of abortion are now left for states to decide.

State of play: Washington plus 16 other states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws that would automatically keep abortion legal if Roe is overturned.

What they're saying: Washington's 1991 initiative was floated then "for fear that the Supreme Court would do something exactly like this," Jay recalled after the draft opinion leaked.

  • "It's not that we were prophetic," Jay said. "We were convinced the Supreme Court would overturn Roe within a year or two."
  • Even then, Washington's vote on the measure was viewed as a litmus test nationwide by abortion advocates and opponents alike, news reports from the time say.

What's next: Competing political parties in states without abortion bans or protections are racing to enact legislation or seek legal clarity.

  • In Michigan, there is an ongoing legal battle in which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is asking the state's Supreme Court to set a precedent saying that abortion rights are protected under the state's Constitution.

At least 26 Republican-led states in total are expected to ban abortions or heavily restrict access in the wake of Friday's ruling, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights organization.

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