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Two eastern Washington legislators face long odds with new abortion bills

Austin Jenkins/Northwest News Network

Republican Senators Mike Padden and Shelly Short have introduced legislation, but there's little chance their bills will advance.

Washington and Idaho are going different directions in their approach toward regulating abortion.

Idaho has moved to ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save a mother’s life. Majority Democrats in the Washington legislature are working to preserve abortion access and perhaps even enshrine it in the state constitution.

In Olympia, two eastern Washington Republican legislators are working to impose what they view as common sense restrictions on abortion.

Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) has introduced a billto ban abortion in cases where the fetus has Down syndrome. It’s a practice he believes is sometimes performed, though there doesn’t appear to be any published, peer reviewed research about whether that’s true and, if so, whether it’s common.

“A number of other states have passed legislation to protect Down syndrome babies in the womb. That is, I think, telling and, if we could ever get a hearing on it, which is very unlikely given the Democrats’ control of the Senate, that there’d be a lot of support for it,” he said.

Sen. Shelly Short (R-Addy) proposes to prohibit abortions performed for gender reasons. Parents wouldn’t be allowed to end a pregnancy if the sex of the child is not the one they were seeking.

“We see this treatment and abuse in female infants in some parts of the world and I think that’s something we shouldn’t have in our country,” she said. “I think it’s something we can all get behind. I think we should have that conversation and stand up and say we should have mistreatment of women in any way, shape or form,” she said in support of herbill.

Their bills are among several abortion-related pieces of legislation filed in Olympia this year. This week, at least four of those received hearings in committee, including an amendment that would enshrine the right to access an abortion in Washington’s constitution.

Padden and Short both oppose it.

“Look at the makeup of the legislature and the governor’s office and the Washington State Supreme Court. I think the constitutional amendment is not necessary and a little bit of political theater,” Short said. “This state is going to continue to be very protective of a woman’s right to have an abortion, given Initiative 120 that’s been in our state for a very long time,” Short said.

Initiative 120 was approved by 50.14% of voters in 1991. It says “the state may not deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability of the fetus, or to protect her life or health."

Neither of the bills sponsored by Short and Padden have yet been scheduled for committee hearings, let alone votes that might allow them to move along in the legislative process. That’s too bad, says Padden, who believes the majority of Washington residents would support their proposals if Democrats would allow them to make their case.

“I think the pro-life side, if people hear about it, they support reasonable restrictions. They don’t want to see these late-term, partial-birth abortions which are especially gruesome for the unborn child. A lot of them don’t want abortions after 15 weeks,” he said.

Padden cites the results of a national NPR/PBS/Marist poll released in May 2022 that showed about two-thirds of those asked support some kind of restrictions on abortions, while only about a quarter believe abortion should be available at any point during a pregnancy.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.