Seattle Lawyer’s Long Abortion Rights Fight

Judith Lonnquist bailed out abortion doctors in the 1960s and has been fighting for women’s rights ever since. She has advice on how to take action now.

By Rob Smith

Seattle-Judith Lonnquist cropped-min
Judith Lonnquist

November 7, 2022

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Judith Lonnquist is steadfast. She’s angry. Her tone is clipped and impatient. “It’s like 50 years of my life has been wasted,” she says. And yet, Lonnquist is hopeful.  

Lonnquist, a prominent Seattle labor and employment attorney who specializes in sex discrimination and harassment, has been fighting for civil rights and women’s rights since the mid-1960s. She calls the recent Supreme Court action overturning a woman’s right to an abortion “horrible” and “depressing,” but considers it another chapter in an ongoing battle.

“I am very hopeful that the scope of these laws will generate more outrage that will motivate more people to get to the polls in November,” says Lonnquist, who opened her own firm in Seattle in the early 1980s and also served as national legal vice president for the National Organization for Women. “The midterms will be a good test.”

Lonnquist, whose license plate reads “FEMINST,” recalls being the “depository” for bail money before Roe v. Wade. The feminist movement in Chicago was bringing doctors from other states to perform safe abortions. If they got arrested, Lonnquist bailed them out.

“But it’s different, because in the ’60s abortion was illegal everywhere,” she says. “And it wasn’t until the ’60s that the conservative movement decided that this was an issue they could build their forces with.”

What are you watching in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned? Congress and the White House. There are things to be done.

Did this surprise you? During the Trump-Clinton campaign I wore a button every day that said, “It’s about the Supreme Court, stupid.” I knew it was coming when they got the majority of the Supreme Court. 

What advice do you have for prochoice advocates? Keep this issue hot because it’s fairly typical of our society. Something makes a big splash, everybody gets all up in arms and then it goes away with time. This issue cannot go away. This is too fundamental and too critical. We need to keep marching. We need to keep having demonstrations.

How does this differ from what you were doing in the 1960s? The domination of women is not as obvious as it was 50 years ago, and things are very different. It’s very concerning, for example, about some of these apps that women use to track their periods and stuff. I can see a trial lawyer in discovery seeking that information. I’m really tracking what the federal government is doing and what Big Data, like Google, are doing. The FCC could issue regulations that no big data company can disclose personal information, whether by subpoena or otherwise.

How did we get here? This was a 50-years-or-more campaign by conservatives. It was very well planned. It’s been very sneaky and very clever. 

What are your personal feelings considering your long history with this issue? It’s so important to keep this issue alive in the political venue. So important.

What actions do you advise that people take? Financial actions. Contribute to organizations that are providing travel money or money for women who can’t afford abortions. Give to national organizations that have a vested interest in the outcome. Planned Parenthood and other organizations always take money. 

What about candidates? They can make sure that every single person who’s running for every single office is prochoice. They can be activists by going to the meetings and asking questions. How do you stand on choice? How do you stand on abortion? Because it’s a feeder system. You get yourself elected to the school board, and then you run for city council and then you run for legislative positions and then you run for Congress. Get involved in races across the country.

The Justice Department may resist state efforts to ban or restrict abortion pills. Will that work? It should. Most of those are mailed. There are websites in Europe.

Is packing the Supreme Court a viable option? I don’t like that. I don’t want more than nine justices. I do think we could have age limits and term limits. But I don’t think that’s going to happen considering the current structure of Congress.

Do you see a legal fight coming over the use of contraceptives? Yes. I think that’s the bullseye. That’s the next target.

Do you think the weight of the law is going to come down more on providers or patients? I think that it probably will continue to fall heaviest on the providers, the clinics, the doctors. It could be anybody who assists in providing an abortion. It could be the cab driver who takes you to the clinic. 

What unique or unusual ideas have you heard? Can we use the national parks, which are federal? Can you put clinics in the federal parks? That’s a really interesting question. Can you convince Native Americans in this country to put clinics on native land?

What role can companies play? They can stop funding candidates who are antichoice. They can be more selective in who they support. They often give money to both sides. Consumers should demand that.

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