(The Center Square) – The Spokane City Council has approved a resolution that bars employees, including police officers, from assisting in investigations or the prosecution of abortion patients or providers.
More than 40 speakers filled the council chambers to capacity on Monday night and the majority opposed the resolution, which was approved by a 4-2 vote.
The resolution is nonbinding, and so was intended to express the council’s position on the issue.
“I don’t think this is something the city council should be spending time on,” said Katie Kenlein, a Spokane native and college sophomore.
She had registered comments at last week’s meeting due to a scheduling conflict on July 25. While at the podium, she pointed out that the council majority had all received donations from NARAL Pro-Choice America or another abortion advocacy group. She believes their actions were politically motivated to appease supporters.
“I feel the council should be focused on human trafficking, homelessness, crime, the rape kit backlog and other local issues. If they are really interested in supporting women, I feel they would tackle those issues,” she said.
Council President Breean Beggs said the measure was not designed as a “blank check” to protect health care clinics from police investigations related to malpractice or other violations of state law.
“If they’re not following Washington law, there’s nothing in this resolution that encourages police not to do it,” he said. “It’s only if they’re being investigated for not following the law of another state.”
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl does not envision ever being called on to investigate an Idaho resident seeking an abortion in Washington. He said, under the U.S. Constitution, states have the sovereign right to set their own laws when not subject to an overriding federal law.
“Abortion is legal in Washington and conducted in Washington so there is nothing to enforce,” he told The Center Square on Tuesday.
“I have never, in my almost three decades of law enforcement, heard of another state charging someone for doing something legal in one state that is illegal in their home state. I am certain that, if a state were to go that direction, it would not stand up to judicial review.”
Mayor Nadine Woodward was criticized by supporters of the resolution for not weighing in on the issue. Kirsten Davis, communications manager for the administration, said Tuesday the mayor remains focused on addressing city issues.
Beggs sponsored the resolution with Councilors Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson. It was also supported by Councilors Lori Kinnear and Zack Zappone, although he was not present for the final vote.
The measure was opposed by Councilors Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle.
Cathcart derided the resolution as “divisive,” saying “we can’t affect abortion in the city of Spokane.”
“We have absolutely no role in this whatsoever. Not one bit,” he said. “This doesn’t do anything. It’s words on paper. That’s it.”
He also felt it was unfair for the city to give special protection to one population group.
The resolution comes as several states, including Idaho, move to make most abortions illegal following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“I do not want to spend city resources investigating women for health care resources. It’s that simple,” said Kinnear. “Our public safety resources are in short supply.”
She was supported in that stance by Stratton and Wilkerson.
Supporters of the resolution say it reaffirms state law protecting abortion rights for pregnant women and individuals, while calling on federal lawmakers to codify those rights following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Northern Idaho, told the council the resolution was necessary.
“Our patients and our providers are scared,” he said. “We already serve so many patients around the country beyond just Idaho. Texas, Utah, Kentucky, Georgia – they need to know Spokane is a place they can safely access abortion.”
Several amendments proposed by Bingle and Cathcart were defeated by the majority.
Cathcart sought to include wording to make abortion explicitly illegal for gender selection, sexual orientation or preventing the birth of children with genetic disorders. Another amendment advocated for requiring parental or guardian notification, with a judicial bypass option, for any abortion by a minor.
“It’s a resolution on an issue that we have nothing to do with,” Cathcart said, “so I’m adding things that we also have nothing to do with.”
Although most of his his amendments failed on 5-2 votes, Kinnear joined Cathcart and Bingle in advocating that abortion be banned for the purpose of gender selection.
One of Bingle’s amendments sought to strike the term pregnant “individuals” in favor of “pregnant woman or women.” He also wanted to delete the section of the resolution about limiting city resources with abortion-related investigations, and to urge federal representatives to pass legislation “defining life as being from the moment of conception and afforded protections as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment” instead of codifying abortion rights.
Bingle wanted language stating the measure was supported by the majority bloc, and not the council as a whole. He said a “a large amount of the city fundamentally disagrees with this issue.”