FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pour One Out for Jan: Author of the World’s Best Abortion Legislation Author of the Washington’s Initiative 120 Passes Away

Women of color have long had a love-hate relationship with white feminists. While the two groups clearly have the united goal of dismantling the patriarchy, all too often the efforts are co-opted by white women. “Wins” are typically not “wins for women” but in fact, “wins for white women.” The pro-choice movement has been no different.

However, in that dark landscape of frustration is Jan Bianchi. And though she has recently passed away, like every other unsung hero, her legacy will live on. Unlike many white feminists, her work has greatly benefited women of color.

With an increasing number of TRAP laws and the recent case in Texas, the discussion around reproductive rights is largely focused on stemming the seemingly contagious spread of anti-woman legislation.  One can’t help but wonder what it would look like if the opposite were true.

Jan Bianchi was one of the co-authors of the Washington State’s Initiative 120 that was passed in 1991 by popular vote and created the most liberal abortion legislation in the country.  Washington is also the only state that legalized abortion through popular vote rather than through legislators.

Flying in the face of common practice, Initiative 120 removed any strict gestational limits.  Instead of arbitrarily picking a week of pregnancy in which abortion would no longer be allowed, it set the limits based on viability.  While this idea is not new, what was cutting-edge was how Jan and her co-authors defined “viability.”

As Stewart Jay, another drafter of the legislation explained, “We felt Roe v. Wade is too vague because it leaves the question of fetal viability to the judgment of physicians under an equally vague standard of what ‘meaningful life’ is.”  Instead, Initiative 120 defined “viability” to be when the fetus could “survive outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.”  Given the propensity of congress and other politicians to believe that their political experience gives them the expertise to make medical judgments, this definition is pivotal and far more robust.

Furthermore, it has a clause that states that as long as physicians make a “good faith judgment” about viability, they are immune to prosecution.

By writing it into state law, it’s far more durable as it does not depend on Roe v. Wade.  In a move of brilliance, the initiative also stipulated that after enactment, it could not be altered for 2 years.

However, what’s really special about Washington’s legislation is that it goes far beyond gestational limits to address the more nuanced issues that frequently limit a woman’s access to healthcare:

* It explicitly protects every woman’s right to birth control;

* It states that legislation about abortion can only be valid if it is consistent with current, established medical practice;

* It requires that if the state provides benefits and information for pregnancy and childbirth, then it must provide women with equivalent benefits if they want to have an abortion.

Only a few Medicaid programs use state funds to cover abortion.  Even fewer have laws that require Medicaid to do so.  Depending on location and gestational age, an abortion can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

Nearly a fifth of women have to travel over 50 miles to access abortion services. That percentage jumps to 74% for women in rural areas.  If travel costs and wages lost are not already cost-prohibitive, certainly the medical bills can be.

Given that 91% of abortions done in this country are in the first trimester, cost is arguably a larger barrier than gestational limits.  The I’m pact that racism in this country has on wealth makes affordability a disproportionally important factor to women of color, something that white feminists have frequently forgotten and ignored.

The names of the people who have made widespread societal change are not always remembered.  Instead we think about how their spirit will live on in all the lives that their work has touched.  While this, in it of itself, is not disappointing as most people who do social justice work are more concerned with impact rather than fame, the lack of recognition of Jan and her co-authors’ work on Initiative 120 is a shame because so many white feminists could learn from their example.

As a friend, I will always remember her gruff sense of humor. As a physician, I will always be in awe of her incredible impact on public health through the lens of women’s health. Not only has her work increased access and restored human rights to 50% of the population of the state of Washington, it has also created a fertile ground for physician training thus influencing and teaching generations upon generations of young physicians to provide abortions. In a country where the number of abortion providers is on the decline, the import of this cannot be understated.

Jan will also be cherished by those who knew her for her immense generosity not only to friends and family, but the global community.  The fact that it was almost always accompanied by an ostensible crankiness made it only more endearing. She was a skillful woodworker (after all, what else is a retired, queer woman supposed to do?) and a tremendous facilitator of community whether it be through her weekly Sunday night dinners, book club, or mentorship.

Jan Bianchi died at the age of 72 on August 20, 2016 from cancer in her home in Seattle, Washington. In addition to her work in women’s reproductive rights she is also known for championing LGBT equity. She is survived by her daughter, Rachel Bianchi, and her sister, Sue Schubert.

More articles by:

JESS GUH, MD is a member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the independent, uncompromised, five-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative news site.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail