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Washington Abortion Rights Initiative Wins in Absentee Count

November 21, 1991

SEATTLE (AP) _ A completed count of absentee ballots gave a slim victory to an initiative that would guarantee women in Washington state the right to an abortion even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade. But the margin is so small that a recount is necessary.

Initiative 120 won by an unofficial count of 756,554 to 752,240, or 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent, said state elections director Gary McIntosh.

State law requires recounts in all races decided by less than 0.5 percent. McIntosh said the recount wouldn’t be ordered until Dec. 5 and would probably take about a week.

″It’s almost over. We’re feeling very glad. We’re very pleased that it’s finally nearing the end,″ said Esther Herst, state executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Kenneth D. VanDerhoef, executive director of Human Life of Washington, said he and other opponents would monitor the recount closely.

″Of course, I’m disappointed,″ VanDerhoef said. ″The voters of this state have passed a very radical piece of legislation, but they passed it by less than one-half of one percent.″

The measure would permit a licensed physician to abort a fetus except in cases where the doctor determined it’s reasonably likely the fetus could survive outside the womb without ″extraordinary medical measures.″

It also would ensure that a woman could get an abortion to protect her life or health. The measure would require the state to pay for abortions for poor women, something it already does.

The measure would amend a 1970 state law to make it conform with Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed women the right to abortion. The 1970 law is more restrictive than Roe vs. Wade and was declared inoperative after the 1973 decision.

Abortion-rights advocates fear the Supreme Court, with newer, more conservative members, may overturn Roe vs. Wade.

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