Buttons illustrated with lips applying ruby red lipstick reading “Put on your war paint,” were scattered across the table at a legislative session preview event on Thursday, Jan. 10.
The event, put on by the National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice Washington, convened in an unoccupied space owned by the sex shop, WinkWink, on Commercial Street downtown.
People of all ages and backgrounds gathered in the space to discuss the legislative session beginning Monday, Jan. 14 in Olympia. The meeting’s goal was to discuss pro-choice legislators and the 2019 legislative agenda surrounding reproductive health, according to the event coordinator Morgan Steele Dykeman.
Before the meeting began, the attendees sat chatting amicably in a circle of chairs. Some knitted to pass the time, while others enjoyed refreshments Dykeman had provided.
“What does reproductive freedom mean to you?” Dykeman asked the crowd, quieting the group and signaling the start of the meeting. Many individuals had different definitions of what reproductive freedom was and why it was important to them.
Kathy, 63, explained how she first got involved in the fight for reproductive rights.
“I’ve been involved with reproductive rights since I was a very young teenager,” Kathy said. “It was at a time when, not only was abortion illegal, but contraception was illegal. My own sister got pregnant when she was a sophomore, and had to sneak off to New York to get an abortion where it was semi-legal in New York at that time. She came home and described the experience as being in this dirty, filthy office, and indeed, she did get an infection.”
Kathy requested her last name be left out to protect her sister’s identity.
Kathy’s account is not far from becoming a reality again, Dykeman said, referring to the current state of reproductive rights legislation.
“The reality of Roe v. Wade is that states have been chopping away at it since day one,” Dykeman said of the 1973 Supreme Court abortion rights case. “And if we don’t keep fighting, it will be gone, and we will lose access to abortion and also the freedom that comes with being able to choose what happens to your body.”
However, Dykeman said she is dedicated to combating the changes at both the state and federal levels, calling her organization “scrappy.” In other words, they are not afraid to fight, she said.
According to Dykeman, access to reproductive health care is personal.
She became pregnant in her mid-20s and decided to have an abortion, but was turned away by her primary care doctor in Seattle, she said. Dykeman said her doctor sent her out the door and told her that if abortion was Dykeman’s choice, that she couldn’t help her.
It wasn’t until an abortion clinic ran some tests that she found out she had an ectopic pregnancy, Dykeman said. An ectopic pregnancy involves the fetus developing outside of the uterus and can be fatal to both the mother and the baby, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
After her experience, Dykeman said she dedicated her time to NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, becoming the Legislative Affairs Manager.
During the meeting, Dykeman explained the 2019 legislative agenda for pro-choice supporters. Dykeman said democrats have the majority in both the state house and senate in 2019, but that NARAL Pro-Choice Washington still has work to do.
Jessica Hay, the manager of public affairs at Planned Parenthood in Bellingham, also attended the meeting.
“It’s going to be a fight, but it’s a fight we can win,” Hay said. “We’re fired up and ready to go. The energy of these folks is just fantastic.”
Western student and Planned Parenthood Generation club coordinator, Erin Montgomery, attended the meeting and plans to attend the NARAL Pro-Choice Washington Reproductive Freedom Advocacy Day on Jan. 31.
“I feel really empowered by the results of the 2019 election, and I feel that change is coming,” Montgomery said.
NARAL Pro-Choice Washington plans to rally on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia on Jan. 31, according to Dykeman. The group is also pushing several bills that will revise bills that are already in effect and introduce new ideas, Dykeman said.
The group’s priority bill is the Reproductive Health Access for All Act (RHAA). The bill is a revision of the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA), passed in 2018. The bill was written by the Gender Justice League, a Washington State gender and sexuality civil and human rights organization, according to the GJL website.
RHAA aims to improve the RPA by defining insurance coverage for all Washington residents regardless of immigration status, gender identity, race or sexual orientation, Dykeman said.
Other bills on the agenda covered topics of improving sexual education, protecting doctors that are helping patients seek reproductive health care and preparing for state funding for family planning.
“Even when you think the work is done, there’s always more progress to be made,” Dykeman said, “And I love seeing the fire in people’s eye when that clicks.”
A bus with public seating available will leave from Bellingham for the 2019 Reproductive Freedom Advocacy Day on Jan. 31. If you would like more information on this event, you can contact Dykeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.