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One year after Dobbs, Sen. Patty Murray reflects on the fight for reproductive rights


On a rainy day on Capitol Hill, I'm standing here looking east because it's just a couple of hundred yards east of here that you will find the Supreme Court, which one year ago issued the opinion striking down Roe v. Wade. Well, since then, Democrats here in Congress have been trying to figure out ways to legislate a federal right to reproductive freedoms. They have not succeeded. We have come today to meet the woman still leading that charge. She is Senator Patty Murray of Washington. She's a 30-year veteran of the Senate. She spent a lot of those years focused on reproductive rights.

PATTY MURRAY: How are you?

KELLY: Nice to see you, Senator.

MURRAY: Nice to see you.

KELLY: Thanks for having us.

Inside her Senate office, with the anniversary looming of the decision overturning a federal right to an abortion, we sat down with Patty Murray to talk through where she sees the fight going next.

Senator Murray, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MURRAY: I'm so delighted to be on with you today. Thank you.

KELLY: As we were just getting set up, you looked at me and said, I can't believe it's been a year. What do you think about when you think about the Dobbs decision a year ago?

MURRAY: You know, it's incredible that it's been a year, but it feels like a really long year. I remember when the Dobbs decision came down. I was on a plane flying home to Seattle, got off, and I was just - I just felt so stunned and sad. And I kept thinking, this is going to create chaos - couldn't quite define that yet, but could say that it was going to happen. And here we are a year later, and I have heard story after story. I've seen state law after state law passed. And, yeah, we are in a state of chaos for women's health.

KELLY: Well, and I gather you were hoping for chaos on a certain level. I saw an interview you gave to The Post last year where you said, I hope this moment of the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade will be a galvanizing moment, that there will be a national furor. Has there been?

MURRAY: Absolutely - without a doubt. I mean, we saw it in the election. Every state that has had...

KELLY: But we saw in the election, Republicans took the House.

MURRAY: Right. But every state that had abortion on the ballot, abortion rights for women, it passed. Women came out to vote to make sure that they could protect their rights. Have we seen dozens of states pass really horrific laws that have inhibited women? Yes.

KELLY: Yeah. But I guess - I mean, just to push you on this, the Supreme Court struck down Roe. Republicans won the House. As you just nodded to, state after state has passed laws restricting abortions, mostly, not the other way. There's still all kinds of debate over the abortion pill and mifepristone and where that will go, but increasing efforts to walk back access to that. And I'm sitting with you on Capitol Hill, and there aren't protests outside every day. I get that there can't be protests every day.

MURRAY: Look, I can tell you the difference...

KELLY: But when you say it's caused a furor...


KELLY: ...I'm not sure I see it.

MURRAY: I can tell you the difference pre-Dobbs decision, post-Dobbs. Pre-Dobbs decision, women in this country knew that they didn't have to tell anybody that they were pregnant or that they were ending their pregnancy or that they had a miscarriage or had any complications from it. It was a private decision. They had access to the care they needed. That changed dramatically and continues to change as state legislators take these horrific steps to preclude women from getting the access that they need. And now women are realizing, and men, that they can't be quiet about this. They actually need to tell people this is happening to them. And the number of people who have a friend, a family member, someone they work with, someone they know in college that has been impacted by this - it is growing, and the outrage is growing.

KELLY: So let's talk about what you would like to see Congress do. Last May, right after the draft opinion leaked, the Senate held a vote attempting to enshrine abortion rights. It failed. I guess I'm wondering, we're not able to get a vote through when Democrats controlled the Senate and the House and the White House, so...

MURRAY: Today.

KELLY: ...What gives you hope?

MURRAY: Today. And I think what gives me hope is that this has now become an issue that people really understand. And they understand that they have to stand up and fight for it, that we need to change the laws. We need to protect women.

KELLY: Do you hear any of that from your colleagues across the aisle, though, like Republicans in the House?

MURRAY: Well, what I have - well, I'm not going to speak for the House - a radical view - but what I can tell you is a number of Republicans have gone from a year ago saying we're going to pass a national ban to just being quiet about it in most cases. Now, there are absolutely members of the Republican Party who are standing up and continuing to try and make this an issue. But I will tell you, as we see more and more of the fallout, the impact to women in particular, treating women as if they are second-class citizens in this country - you cannot determine your own health care. You can't even find your own health care. You can't even travel to another state to get your health care. The outrage that is being felt by women and their friends and their families is growing.

KELLY: Listening to you, you don't sound tired. I think a lot of people might sound tired after 30 years - it's been 30 years since you entered the Senate, and women arguably have seen their rights narrow, not expand...


KELLY: ...In that time.

MURRAY: Oh, I - this is a battle of a lifetime. I was in college when Roe was decided. I had friends, one who was what we today would call - be called date-raped. And she had no health care access, ended up having an abortion by a doctor on the street and severely injured because you didn't have the right kind of care. I do not want to go back to those days. I don't want to go back to the days where women are put into institutions because they got pregnant. This is life. This is what happens. And in this country, we have protected that ability for the last 30 years. And I will keep fighting every day till we get that back.

KELLY: I interviewed Gloria Steinem last spring, the activist and journalist, and she compared the fight for reproductive rights to a tree. Her argument was if trees grew from the top down, it would be fine to wait on Congress to do something here. But - you're laughing - trees grow from the bottom up, from the ground up. And that's the way this is going to have to work. It has to be about a fight by individuals in our communities.

MURRAY: Absolutely. She is so right about that. I can be in the backroom and fight, but the laws will be overturned. The courts will turn back to a place where we have our protections. Roe will be established in individual states across the country where people elect legislators on both sides of the aisle who are willing to say women's rights need to be protected. Women should make their own health care decisions. Legislators should not.

KELLY: Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, thank you.

MURRAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.