In the race for a key state senate seat, Republicans are counting on a particular formula to win: Fiscal conservatism + social moderation.
Republican Jinyoung Englund has focused on promising not to raise taxes and characterizing Democrat Manka Dhingra as a Seattle-style socialist. (She's not.) Meanwhile, Englund has described herself as a social moderate, including her stance on abortion rights.
“I am a true King County Republican, but I’m also a Republican in the millennial generation. I believe in a woman’s right to choose,” she told Publicola in August. At a debate this month, she said: "I am for a woman's right to choose and I do believe women should have the right, if they choose, to have contraception and I have no intention of changing the laws in our state surrounding that." When the Seattle Times Editorial Board endorsed her three days later, they called her "pro-abortion rights."
But calling yourself pro-choice doesn't make it so.
Throughout the campaign, Democrats have circulated screenshots of two anti-choice tweets from Englund in 2015, including one that has since been deleted in which she shared an op-ed saying doctors who provide abortions have been "elevated to gods who may not be questioned or held accountable." Englund, who has said she did not vote for Donald Trump, was previously an aide to Republican U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers has repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Englund also worked as an assistant to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao when Chao was at the anti-choice Heritage Foundation, according to the Seattle Times. Most recently, when faced with a question about insurance coverage for birth control, Englund sidestepped.
During an October 10 debate, KIRO's Essex Porter asked Englund whether she believes insurance companies "should be required to provide no cost contraception as they have been today." Englund dodged, saying she "would like to see businesses work together with women['s] rights advocacy groups to ensure that women have access to contraception."
Then, relentlessly on message, Englund quickly pivoted: "What that looks like may not look like—I mean, what we're seeing at the federal level is extremes. From one extreme to another. And that puts people in peril. That puts women in peril and that is not the right way."
All of this has pro-choice advocates in Washington calling bullshit on Englund's socially moderate label.
“I’m sorry, but screw that," says Elissa Goss, political director at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, of Englund's proposal to negotiate with businesses over contraceptive coverage. "Women’s health is constantly being negotiated. Women’s reproductive rights are constantly being negotiated. That has to stop.”
"[Englund] had every opportunity to say that women deserve access to birth control," says Katie Rogers, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, "but instead said that the business community should be in control. Reproductive rights are nothing without access."
Both Planned Parenthood and NARAL have endorsed Dhingra, and both say Englund did not respond to their requests for endorsement questionnaires or meetings. Both organizations work not just to protect the right to have an abortion, but to improve access to abortion and birth control, including for people in rural parts of Washington state.
"You have to work with activists who are fighting for this," Goss says. "You can’t just say you are. Deep down, I do hope she’s pro-abortion, but that’s not what’s going to make sure that a woman out in Yakima can get an abortion.”
Republicans in Washington state have proposed draconian anti-choice measures. They have blocked efforts like the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require health insurance companies to cover abortion, and a bill to guarantee continued access to preventative care including birth control if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. If Englund wins, Republicans will maintain their control of the state senate and she could find herself as a deciding vote on efforts like this.
"Up until this point, everything she has said has been vague," says Rogers, from Planned Parenthood. "Vague doesn’t cut it, especially right now, and especially under this balance of power. Would she be willing to break with her party?"
Englund's campaign did not return The Stranger's request for comment.
This post has been updated to reflect that Rogers was speaking on behalf of Planned Parenthood's political arm.