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Spin Control: Dueling press releases on Texas abortion law ignore reality in Washington state

Women protest against the six-week abortion ban on Sept. 1 at the Capitol in Austin, Texas.  (Jay Janner)
Women protest against the six-week abortion ban on Sept. 1 at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. (Jay Janner)

One of my father’s favorite sayings, and one I try hard to follow, was never to borrow trouble. It’s one that politicians rarely practice when a controversial event is just too tempting to resist.

Take, for example, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who is usually among the most level-headed of statewide elected officials. But on Wednesday, he took a shot at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to block a new Texas law that would allow individuals to file civil actions against anyone involved in the abortion of a fetus that has detectable cardiac activity.

Kreidler, a long-standing supporter of legal abortions, called it a blatant disregard for women’s rights, a threat to their health and a possible model for other states to restrict women’s ability to make choices about their own health. All within the bounds of reasonable public debate. But then he added:

“Texas Republicans have become America’s own version of the Taliban,” he said in his press release. “I will do everything in my power to make sure this Taliban-like move by Texas never finds a place in the state of Washington.”

That prompted a stern response from state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, describing Kreidler’s comparison as “hateful” and “made in hopes of appearing relevant and scoring cheap partisan points.”

“The new Texas law is intended to save and protect innocent human life,” Padden, a longtime opponent of abortion, said in his press release. “The Taliban are known for ending innocent human lives and other atrocities.”

First let’s be clear about what’s wrong with Kreidler’s comparison. The Taliban don’t outsource the enforcement of things they don’t like. They do the beating, stoning and killing themselves, and they don’t need a judge to help them out.

If anything, they would pause from trying to take Afghanistan back to the Middle Ages, look at the Texas Legislature and come up with the Afghan equivalent of “What a bunch of wusses.”

Second, let’s be clear what’s wrong with Padden’s rejoinder. The Texas Legislature came up with a law that’s not really about saving innocent human life. It came up with a possible end-around for past unsuccessful attempts by states to restrict abortions on their own. It wants to give private citizens the ability to become abortion bounty hunters, using civil court proceedings instead of the standard bounty hunter tools of guns and handcuffs.

Those bounty hunters aren’t going to get their payoff until after an abortion happens, so they are essentially reaping a benefit from it. The threat of those payoffs indirectly could reduce the number of clinics and doctors in Texas willing to do abortions, possibly to zero.

But that’s only if the first time an abortion bounty hunter brings a suit, which one certainly will, and the case gets appealed, as it certainly will, an eventual ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t throw the law out on the theory that you can’t come up with an indirect way to do something the law doesn’t allow you to do directly.

Four members of the court seemed to think the Texas law already crossed that line. Five members seemed to say it was too soon to make that decision. Whether they’ll vote a different way when a specific case is in front of them remains to be seen.

So what does all this have to do with borrowing trouble?

Kreidler and Padden, who have both been around Washington politics for decades, know that Washington is unlikely to adopt a rule creating abortion bounty hunters like Texas did. Washington had legal abortion before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Its voters have turned down efforts by anti-abortion forces to restrict the procedure by denying state funding or banning late-term abortions. In 1991, they essentially codified the provisions of Roe v. Wade into state law.

Both Democrats and Republicans likely will try to energize their voters based on the Supreme Court’s decision. People who think they can predict these things disagree on whether it will prompt more women who support abortion rights to vote for Democrats in 2022 or solidify the Christian conservatives who have supported Republicans.

That’s not likely to generate much of a wave in Washington, however.

As Gov. Jay Inslee said in the wake of last Wednesday’s decision states with Republican-controlled legislatures could use it as a template. But, he added, it “has no impact on people seeking an abortion in Washington.”

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