The Politics of Choice In Washington’s Senate Race


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.

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?”:

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