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Copyright 2000 The Seattle Times Company  
The Seattle Times

August 1, 2000, Tuesday Final Edition


LENGTH: 521 words

HEADLINE: Nation may be winner in Seattle suit

BYLINE: Nicole Brodeur; Times staff columnist

Jennifer Erickson suddenly starts to cry, and I am as adequate as a guy in one of those beer commercials. I don't know whether to hug her or grab her by the shoulders and tell her to pull herself together and soldier on.

So I shoot for the middle. You're doing a great thing, I tell her. You're helping a lot of women, maybe saving lives.

Erickson nods and wipes her eyes. She knows all this. She is just not used to women stopping her in the street to thank her, or to being the current crusader for women's equality.

"It's just been crazy," she tells me. "You never imagine yourself doing something this big."

Erickson, 27, is a Bellevue pharmacist at the center of a class-action suit that seeks to have contraceptives covered by the company medical plan. The suit was filed last week against Erickson's employer, Bartell Drugs, by lawyers for Planned Parenthood.

The suit could have national impact because it highlights a possible violation of federal discrimination laws and could ultimately affect millions of women at every income level.

But I see Erickson's suit as packing an even bigger punch.

By raising the issue of access to birth control, she has touched upon other debates that are being set out like a buffet for conventioneering politicians - and some local ones - to chew and spew until voters signal for the check in November.

Insured birth control would take some of the fire out of the never-ending battle over abortion rights.

No one is comfortable with the legacy of Roe vs. Wade, myself included. But until we eliminate the problem of unwanted pregnancies, safe abortions are a necessary solution. Erickson's lawsuit could make them less so.

If more women were able to get contraceptives through their health plans, fewer would get pregnant and perhaps seek abortions.

Insured birth control would also help those women who choose not to abort, but are having unwanted children - and then dumping them in bathroom stalls or Dumpsters.

Federal statistics show that of the 105 known abandoned babies in 1998, 33 were found dead.

Washington state lawmakers are considering a law that would set up specific spots - hospitals or some other "safe haven" - where mothers could safely and anonymously abandon their newborns. Fourteen states have enacted similar laws.

So Erickson's suit means even more than she thinks.

Surely, saving babies from conception, and others from fast and fatal disposal, is something both parties can rally around this summer.

But right now, it is Jennifer Erickson doing the fighting for every working woman in America of child-bearing age.

"Women shouldn't need a doctor's letter to get birth control," she says. "It should be basic health care. It's just one more hoop for them to jump through."

Something to keep in mind as politicians gather for their own three-ring circuses in Philadelphia and Los Angeles this summer.

Leave the jumping to them.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in The Times. Her phone number is 206-464-2334. Her e-mail address is Mr. Cheney? Dick? You listening?

LOAD-DATE: August 2, 2000

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