Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The (Dis)Ability to Choose
The Intersection of Reproductive
and Disability Rights

By Alison DeBoise

Advances in prenatal testing allow healthcare providers to determine if a fetus will have a genetic disability. This development, and how it relates to a pregnant person’s right to choose how to proceed with the pregnancy, has been the subject of much discussion among advocates for both reproductive rights and disability rights. But you may not realize that, through a reproductive justice lens, both groups of advocates are fighting the same fight.

Prenatal testing is viewed by some as harmless expansion of choice. Knowledge of genetic disability allows pregnant people and their families to make informed decisions about their pregnancies, and the births and lives of their children. They may choose to use this information to prepare emotionally, financially, and physically for the unique care the child may require; start marshalling resources and support for the care of the child; terminate the pregnancy; or prepare for the child’s adoption.

But a pregnant person’s ability to make the choice is highly constrained by societal factors. The complicated ethics that accompany advances in prenatal testing not only hinge on the right to choose whether or not to have a child (birth versus abortion), but also the right to be supported in that choice (access to abortion care versus family support services). The reality remains that there is a substantial lack of access to societal and material support for a pregnant person choosing either to terminate the pregnancy or raise a disabled child.

Pregnant people need to be supported in their choice to terminate a pregnancy even if that choice was primarily informed by the knowledge that their child would be born with a genetic disability. But pregnant people’s ability to make that choice is being eroded at a rapid rate. In addition to the common barriers pregnant people face in seeking quality and affordable abortion care, several states are attempting to prohibit abortion based on knowledge of genetic disability.

For many pregnant people, the choice is further complicated by their socioeconomic status. Financial instability may prevent a person from being able to make the decision to terminate, as many pregnant people cannot afford the time off work for the procedure, do not have a means to travel to the nearest clinic (38% of women do not have a clinic within their county), or cannot afford the procedure due to a disparity in insurance coverage. But that same lack of funding may prevent a person from being able to care for a child with a disability. While the pregnant person might desire to have and raise the child regardless of disability, they may decide to terminate nonetheless because they do not have the time, familial support, or financial stability to care for a disabled child.

Pregnant people also need to be supported in their choice to raise a child with a genetic disability. Parents need access to institutional programs such as subsidized and free childcare, monetary assistance, and caregiving support. Socially, parents need programs that work to change ableist attitudes that result in discrimination in schools, the workplace, and the design of the physical landscape to ensure their child has a high quality of life.

Despite some legislators’ attempts to pit reproductive rights and disability rights advocates against each other, both groups tend to recognize that unconstrained choice means not only having the right to choose, but also having the right to be supported in that choice. This illustrates where advocacy for reproductive rights and disability rights intersect to form reproductive justice. We must work together to ensure accessible social services for people with disabilities and their caregivers, promote accurate information about disability absent of ableist rhetoric, and continue educating others of the fact that we all—disabled and otherwise—benefit from a society that allows us the right and the support to make our own reproductive choices.


Alison DeBoise is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at Smith College. She is passionate about the intersections of disability rights, reproductive justice, and LGBT+ rights.

Photo courtesy of Phalinn Ooi

Monday, August 3, 2015

In Celebration of World Breastfeeding Week

By Jennifer Werdell

It’s World Breastfeeding Week! While I probably would not have known that before I started volunteering with Legal Voice, I am grateful to take this opportunity to reflect on how privileged I am – to be a mother to two beautiful and healthy children, to live in a place where my children have access to nutritious food every day, and to work in an environment where breastfeeding mothers are provided with the flexibility and resources to be able to continue to feed their babies after they go back to work.

I am not going to lie – I didn’t like breastfeeding, and I truly hated pumping at work. But I was grateful that breastfeeding was an option for me and that I was able to exercise my right to do so. Yet, even in 2015, a supportive culture for breastfeeding is surprisingly absent in many places, even within our own community. Whether it is a prospective politician calling a working mom “disgusting” for pumping milk or an employer refusing to allow an employee break time to breastfeed or pump, women continually find themselves in a no-win situation. Many will be judged for their decision or inability to breastfeed; many others will be chastised for doing so.

So, Washington mamas, during this national and global week of breastfeeding awareness, here is a friendly reminder that the law is on your side! You have the right to breastfeed in any public place and you cannot be discriminated against (or called out as indecent) if you chose to breastfeed your child in public. Need to breastfeed or pump at work? Federal law requires employers with over 50 employees to give moms a reasonable break time when they need to express breast milk for an infant (feeding directly or pumping), and employers must provide a clean and private place for expressing breast milk. And, by the way, no, it does not count if you are given the ‘privilege’ of sitting on a toilet in a bathroom to do so! State law also encourages employers to create policies that support breastfeeding in the workplace, like allowing flexible work schedules and providing a place to refrigerate breast milk and a way for you to clean your breastfeeding supplies. 

Talk to your employers if you are not getting the support you need to breastfeed; if you need help, check out Legal Voice's memo Breastfeeding in Washington State and resources from other great organizations. Happy breastfeeding!


Jennifer Werdell is the Associate Director of Seattle University School of Law’s Access to Justice Institute. She has been participating with Legal Voice’s Self Help Committee since 2012.

Photo courtesy of Jem Grismshaw | Daily Cloudt

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From Hawaii to Seattle and Back Again:
Meet Volunteer Louisa Duggan!

By Louisa Duggan

I stood in my black knee-length skirt, quickly trying to manage my collared blouse with the funky buttons when the faded yellow 74 appeared at my stop. The butterflies in my stomach had calmed since the night before and my mind kept reassuring thoughts on repeat. The bus driver smiled and I remember feeling ultra-cool while I scanned the Orca Card my dad had bought with me earlier that week. I grabbed the nearest seat and prepared for my first day volunteering with Legal Voice.

The ride seemed slower than I had anticipated and I arrived at my destination half an hour earlier than needed. I was new to the surroundings so I decided to quickly go to the Legal Voice office and apologize for my inappropriate arrival time. Of course Jennifer was the nicest person I had met so far in my new habitat and welcomed me. I was thankful for her smile every day.

I came to Legal Voice to follow in my mother’s footsteps and pursue my desire of helping women and children through family law. The goal was to see if the future I had been planning would really one day become a reality for me. But this summer has been so much more than that. I actually see myself not just as a woman but also as a feminist. I found my voice by wanting to help others find theirs. The envelopes I’ve stuffed help bring in supporters for an amazing cause and it’s for ideals I wouldn’t ever give up for anything.

I initially wanted to write something that you, the reader, wanted to hear—perhaps about my awkward transition from my home in Hawaii to the big city of Seattle for seven weeks of independence. However, I then realized that what I really needed to be heard was my own voice, my own experience. Today I find myself being able to navigate through the streets of my neighborhood and the nearby areas like a pro. I have to say goodnight to my roommates (my aunt and uncle with their twin three-year-olds) earlier than normal, giving the big girl excuse of, “Sorry, but I have work tomorrow.” And as my time with this wonderful organization comes to a close and I prepare to return home, I realize that Legal Voice is my home away from home.


Louisa Duggan is a rising senior at Hawaii Preparatory Academy waiting in anticipation of her next step in finding her voice.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Continuing Fight for Full LGBTQ Equality
What Lies Ahead?

By Alison DeBoise

Following the Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land, the QLaw Foundation—joined by Legal Voice and many other community partners—held a community forum to discuss the work that needs to done to achieve full LGBTQ equality.

Legal Voice’s David Ward, along with attorneys from Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Washington, and the QLaw Foundation, discussed the Supreme Court ruling’s implications for continued advocacy and what lies ahead. The implementation of the ruling is important right now because, as David said during the panel, “having legal equality does not mean having lived equality,” an opinion echoed by other panel members.

Beyond marriage, there remains much work to be done to ensure full equality. To illustrate the direst needs of the community, local leaders of LGBTQ rights organizations called upon the ways in which the community’s identities are intersectional. For example, if a woman is transgender, low-income, lesbian, and a woman of color, she is put at a much higher risk for marginalization and discrimination. Moving forward the LGBTQ rights movement must take an intersectional, multifaceted approach to achieve equality for the entire LGBTQ community.

Furthermore, the community must engage in legal advocacy and grassroots organizing on issues such as:
  •  removing health insurance restrictions that bar transgender people’s access to care
  • passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation
  • ensuring all parents and families are recognized and protected by the law
  • ensuring landlords follow state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination in housing
  • banning conversion therapy aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • and many more

To watch video of the full event, please visit The Seattle Channel website.

To learn more about what local organizations are doing to continue the fight for LGBTQ equality visit their websites:

Legal Voice
ACLU of Washington
Equal Rights Washington
Gender Justice League
Greater Seattle Business Association
Ingersoll Gender Center
Lambda Legal
LGBTQ Allyship
Pride Foundation
QLaw Foundation

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ensuring Equal Access to Abortion Coverage: The EACH Woman Act

By Megan E. Veith

Although Roe v. Wade has been the law since 1973, for almost as long, low-income and many other women been prohibited from accessing abortion care. Not only have states increasingly enacted restrictions on abortion, but the federal Hyde Amendment, passed yearly by Congress since 1976 in federal appropriations legislation, bans federal insurance coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to preserve the life of the mother.

Today in Washington, D.C., some members of Congress took a step in the right direction so that the promise of Roe can become a reality for more women. Representatives Barbara Lee, Jan Schakowsky, and Diana Degette introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the “EACH Woman Act.” This Act has two critically important features: first, it provides that every woman who has insurance through the federal government has coverage for abortion. This includes insurance provided through Medicaid, Medicare, FEHBP (the federal employees’ health care plan), TRICARE (military health care), Indian Health Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Veterans Administration. Second, the Act prohibits legislators from interfering with coverage of abortion services in the private insurance market, such as plans established under the Affordable Care Act.

Currently, because of the Hyde Amendment, women on Medicaid or other federal health insurance programs are denied coverage for abortion. States are allowed to supplement with their own resources to cover abortion, but only 17 states currently do so. And even in those states, there are additional barriers: some women may not be aware of what coverage they are eligible to receive, or their state may lack sufficient abortion providers, so traveling to a provider requires even more resources. Moreover, legislators in some states have passed restrictions on private insurance coverage for abortion that are even stricter than those in the Hyde Amendment, such as allowing abortions only to preserve the mother’s life.

These restrictions on abortion coverage have a disproportionate impact on women who already face barriers to accessing quality health care, including low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women. Restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment make choice elusive in practice; a woman’s pregnancy options depend on how much money she makes or how she is insured.

Even in Washington State, which is one of the 17 states in which Medicaid does cover abortion, many women of reproductive age would benefit from this new bill because they are covered under other federally funded health insurance plans subject to the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions. For example, in 2013, about 44,417 Washington women had TRICARE/military health coverage, and about 5,633 had VA Health Care. The EACH Woman Act would ensure that all of these additional 50,050 women in Washington have coverage for abortion services, by removing access barriers and preventing politicians and providers from interfering with a woman’s right to abortion coverage in the future.

In September 2014, Legal Voice and its allies successfully advocated for the Seattle City Council to pass a resolution calling for a repeal of bans on federal abortion coverage. Six other local jurisdictions have passed similar resolutions, and we are pleased that the same rallying cry has now spread to the other Washington.

To learn more about the EACH Woman Act and how you can show your support for every woman’s right to abortion coverage, please visit All* Above All and use the hashtag #4EACHofUS on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of All* Above All.