By guest author: Anuj Khattar, MD, family medicine provider and Pro-Choice Washington Board member
With the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the very real possibility that the right to bodily autonomy will be taken away from more than half the people in our country, it is time for us in Washington state to face some truths.
As a family medicine physician and abortion provider, I see that people make a lot of assumptions about abortion access in Washington that are often untrue. But what is true? And how should we focus our efforts during this critical and tumultuous time?
Here are five truths that I experience daily and that Washingtonians should also be aware of.
Truth 1: Abortion is legal in Washington state (for now).
As a citizen of Washington state, you have a legal right to receive an abortion. At the same time, many barriers exist that make it difficult for people to access an abortion when they need it, such as arranging childcare, finding transport to and from appointments, and the limited number of clinics that are mostly concentrated in Western Washington. The right to abortion in Washington state, however, is not set in stone and can be reversed with a conservative political majority.
Truth 2: The Pacific Northwest is the birthplace of modern white nationalism, and this movement is growing.
In 2021, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 19 hate groups in Washington state alone. These groups have been embolden and energized by the upholding of extreme abortion bans in Texas and Oklahoma and the leaked Supreme Court draft decision. As a result, we’re seeing increased harassment of abortion clinics, providers, and patients, as well as white nationalist candidates runing for office across the state, aiming to protect white power and take away our rights to bodily autonomy. The democratic majority in Washington state is not guaranteed.
Truth 3: Washington state can and must do more to protect abortion rights.
With the state’s current progressive majority, we have opportunities to strengthen the legal safety of abortion for providers and patients and to expand abortion access. Our progressive partners in states like California are working to make sure their state is a true sanctuary. And we must encourage our Washington lawmakers to do the same.
Truth 4: Nearly four times more patients from states with abortion restrictions to seek care in Washington.
The influx of patients from Southern states has already begun and I am seeing these patients in clinic. When Texas’ Senate Bill 8 passed, Oklahoma began bearing the burden of patients from Texas, which in turn caused significant delays for Oklahoma residents who needed abortion care. The same situation can be expected in Washington, where higher out-of-state patient volumes will likely create delays in care for residents and potentially require them to travel further to be seen sooner.
Truth 5: Abortion is essential healthcare and the decision to have an abortion is not taken lightly.
As abortion advocates say: everybody loves someone who has had an abortion, whether you know it or not. An estimated one in four people with childbearing capacity has had an abortion in their lifetime. If we destigmatize abortion and help abortion opponents recognize that their mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends have experienced an abortion, we can unlock the compassion of this movement, rather than allow for the vitriol of the opposition.
I experience these five truths every day as I work with patients, clinics, and the community, and I do not have hope for an equitable or anti-racist abortion policy in my lifetime. However, I remind myself of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We must continue to make the world better for future generations. Here are some tangible ways to support this journey toward justice:
- Advocate for your U.S. Senators and Representatives to pass sweeping abortion access bills on the federal level, like the Women’s Health Protection Act. Also, advocate for state and local politicians to pass protections and to be outspoken advocates for abortion. There are many ways to do this, including calling lawmakers, sending direct mail, showing up to town hall meetings, and donating your time and/or money.
- Use the word “abortion” without stigma or fear. Abortion is not a shameful word or a shameful act. It is an essential health care procedure and an integral part of the entire pregnancy experience. The How To Talk About Abortion guide from Pro-Choice Washington is a great place to start.
- VOTE and encourage those around you to vote. There will always be a candidate who is willing to fight for your reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. You may not agree with every aspect of a candidate’s platform, but abstaining from voting only leaves room for others to vote to take away autonomy. This November, 87 percent of Washington state house and senate seats are up for election, so the progressive majority, which we often take for granted, can change quickly.
The challenges we face and overcome will lead to a better world for our families and friends, generation after generation. We have so much work to do; please join me in standing up for abortion rights in Washington state.
Anuj Khattar, MD, is a family medicine provider who specializes in reproductive health. He works locally in the Puget Sound providing full-spectrum family medicine and has traveled to multiple states to provide reproductive health care. Anuj also serves as a Pro-Choice Washington board member.