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caption: Kim Schrier poses for a portrait on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, in Issaquah.
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Kim Schrier poses for a portrait on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, in Issaquah.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Abortion issue could decide Democrat Kim Schrier’s fate in Washington’s closest congressional race

This week, the King County Council voted 8-1 to express support for abortion rights in the wake of a leaked draft Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would open the door for states to outlaw abortion.

Only one county council member voted against the measure: Reagan Dunn.

Dunn is also one of several Republicans running for Congress this year in a highly competitive race for Washington’s 8th Congressional District, east of Seattle.

There’s a lot at stake: The outcome of that race could determine which party controls the U.S. House next year.

Currently Democrat Kim Schrier represents the sprawling swing district. She’s also the only female doctor in Congress who supports abortion rights.

Schrier flipped the seat for Democrats for the first time in its history back in 2018. But this year Democrats and Republicans both think she's vulnerable. Nonpartisan analysis by The Cook Political Report calls the race a "tossup” – one of about a couple dozen such races for the U.S. House in the entire country this year.

Now, some Democrats are hopeful that the leaked abortion decision could shake things up in her favor. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a press release highlighting Reagan Dunn’s county council vote, titled, “Reagan Dunn Doubles Down on Anti-Choice Agenda.”

For her part, Schrier called the draft Supreme Court ruling, “a dark day for women, and shocking for women older than me who lived through a time when this right was not constitutional.”

As a member of Congress, Schrier also voted in favor of federal law that would codify Roe v Wade and legalize abortion nationwide. A companion bill in the U.S. Senate is expected to fail for a second time this week.

Dunn told KUOW on the abortion issue he holds “pretty much the same position my mom did when she served in Congress.”

His mom, Jennifer Dunn, represented the 8th Congressional District for many years, and called herself a “pro-choice” Republican. She said she believed abortion should be legal. But she was also opposed to any federal funding for abortion.

Reagan Dunn, who holds those same positions, also said he is opposed to a federal bill to codify Roe v Wade. He said the federal government should not pass any law to protect or ban abortion.

Dunn described this as a sort of libertarian position.

“In a perfect world the government would not be involved in this decision at all,” he said.

Schrier’s other two best-funded Republican opponents include former Army Ranger Jesse Jensen and businessman and former Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Matt Larkin. Neither responded to KUOW’s request for comment on the draft Supreme Court ruling. Both have gone on the record in the past opposing abortion rights.

It’s unclear how much the issue will resonate with voters in this sprawling swing district, which runs from mostly blue cities in the western part of the state, across the Cascade Mountains to mostly red cities in the east.

KUOW spoke to some voters on both sides of the abortion issue outside the Issaquah Public Library in the heart of the district. Nobody said the abortion issue would lead them to change their vote for Congress, or even make them more likely to turn out to vote.

That could be because fewer voters are swing voters these days. Their numbers have been in decline, even in swing districts like the 8th.

Still, Democrats told KUOW they’re hopeful. Even if the abortion issue fails to swing a lot of votes, many say they expect it to energize support for Schrier with her base.

But in an election in which Democrats are expected to struggle nationally, that enthusiasm on the abortion issue could go either way.