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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jill Biden tells Seattle audience of helping a friend after an abortion in the 1960s

First lady Dr. Jill Biden participates in a Day of Action round table at The Forty Acres with the Cesar Chavez Foundation, United Farm Workers, and the UFW Foundation on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in Delano, California. Biden visited Seattle and shared a story about how she helped a friend who had an abortion a half century ago. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)  (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
By David Gutman and David Kroman Seattle Times

SEATTLE – First lady Jill Biden spoke about abortion in strikingly personal terms at a fundraiser in Seattle on Saturday, describing how she helped a friend recover from the procedure when it was illegal, a half century ago, as she assailed Republicans for trying to pass state and national abortion bans.

Speaking to an audience of about 200 at a private fundraiser for Sen. Patty Murray’s re-election campaign, Biden told a story from the late 1960s of a friend who got pregnant at age 17.

Abortion was illegal in Pennsylvania at the time. The only way for her friend to get the procedure, Biden said, was to get a psychiatric evaluation that declared her mentally unfit.

“I went to see her in the hospital and then I cried the whole way home,” Biden said.

Biden’s parents voted Republican, she said, but “didn’t talk about it at the dinner table.”

They didn’t debate Senate bills, she said, but knew about the things that affected their lives: schools, jobs, affordable health care, safe neighborhoods.

When the friend was discharged from the hospital, Biden said, she couldn’t go home. So Biden said she gathered her courage and asked her mom if the friend could stay with them.

“Of course she can,” Biden recalled her mother saying. “She never told a soul. We never spoke about it again. Secrecy, shame, silence, danger, even death. That’s what defined that time for so many women.”

Biden did not name the friend and a spokesperson said she did not have any additional information beyond what Biden shared. Biden also told the story on Friday, at a private fundraiser in San Francisco, but had not previously told it publicly.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, abortion rights have become a key issue for Democrats, like Murray, as they attempt in this fall’s midterms to hold control of Congress.

Biden said she was “shocked” and devastated at the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision this year.

“I thought of all the girls and women, like my friend, whose education, careers and future are dependent on the ability to choose when they have children,” she said.

She urged the crowd to re-elect Murray. Murray, in her own speech at the fundraiser, said Democrats need to keep the House and elect 52 senators (they currently have 50) in order to pass national legislation protecting abortion rights.

“We have seen cruel abortion bans all over our country, forcing women to stay pregnant no matter their circumstances,” Murray said. “My opponent actually celebrated the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Murray’s opponent, Tiffany Smiley, describes herself as “pro-life” and has said abortion should be a state issue, not legislated by the federal government.

Smiley’s campaign, in a statement before Biden’s visit, said the Democratic agenda is “divisive and discriminatory” and accused Murray of needing Biden to “bail out her campaign out.”