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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Paul Dillon, Lili Navarrete and Sarah Dixit: Will the next Spokane mayor enforce the law, or play politics with women’s rights?

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 24, 2019

By Paul Dillon, Lili Navarrete and Sarah Dixit Planned Parenthood Advocates Of Greater Washington and North Idaho

Will the next Spokane mayor enforce the law, or play politics with women’s rights? With reproductive rights under attack in this country, you might not think your city government could make a difference. In Spokane, that couldn’t be further from the truth as this administration under Mayor David Condon has inconsistently enforced clear laws that protect patients from loud protests.

Now, voters have a choice.

The Planned Parenthood health center in Spokane is the region’s principal provider of reproductive health care, particularly those from the most marginalized communities. The location sees more than 10,000 patients annually, who otherwise would not have access to the care that they need.

At Planned Parenthood Advocates of Greater Washington and North Idaho, we respect the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. The First Amendment, however, does not protect conduct that is intended to interfere with patient care. Accordingly, Washington law expressly prohibits “willfully or recklessly disrupting the normal functioning of a health care facility,” including “making noise that unreasonably disturbs the peace within the facility.” With RCW 9A.50.020, we will not tolerate violations of this section of state law as patient care and safety always comes first.

In 2013, the city of Spokane passed language to mirror the state law with SMC 10.07.060, which protects all health care facilities and providers from interference. In the last year, the so-called “Church Of Planned Parenthood” – an extremist political group that includes those who promote violence like Rep. Matt Shea and the Proud Boys as members – has held loud, amplified demonstrations with 200 to 400 in attendance outside the Spokane Health Center when patients bare being seen.

While the “Church of Planned Parenthood” claims their services are peaceful, the crowd has become so unwieldy that patients and staff need to be escorted out of the building for protection. One protester, Jake Eakin, has a history of violent crime as well as of entering another Planned Parenthood facility in Yakima without permission. This is unnerving and frightening to patients, many of whom are dealing with a variety of stressors already. To make matters worse, the “Church at Planned Parenthood” has coordinated with the Spokane Police Department to put on these events even though they are without a permit and still in violation of RCW 9A.50.02 and SMC 10.07.060.

The city of Spokane has cited “free speech” as a reason to not enforce the law – however, this is not a free speech issue and our arguments for enforcement are content neutral.

Outside the facility, the music and the speakers are so loud and disruptive that it feels as if this activity is taking place inside the facility itself. This is extremely stressful to patients and staff, especially in private exam rooms. The negative health effects of excessive noise on patients in health care settings are well-documented. Likewise, there is a growing body of research documenting the negative impacts of excessive noise on health care employees. That is why these laws were passed.

Planned Parenthood is no different than any other health care provider. Reproductive health care is health care.

As the clock ticks on this administration, voters’ questions for the next mayor of Spokane should be: Will you enforce the laws that protect patients from interference at health care facilities? Do you believe Planned Parenthood is health care or not?

In her response to this question at “Pints and Politics,” Nadine Woodward stalled. Woodward has fundraised for Life Services, an anti-choice organization, and couldn’t even say the words “Planned Parenthood.” When asked again by The Spokesman, Woodward characteristically “declined to comment.”

By comparison, Ben Stuckart recognized the harmful protests and said, “It is pretty crystal clear that protesters are interfering with somebody’s ability to get health care,” and they should be cited.

No matter the administration, we will never stop fighting for everyone’s ability to access affordable, quality health care, but since ballots are here, we ask you to stand with champions who stand with us.

By Paul Dillon, Vice President Of Public Affairs; Lili Navarrete, Director of Public Affairs; Sarah Dixit, Senior Field Organizer for Planned Parenthood Advocates Of Greater Washington and North Idaho, an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates residents and policy-makers about reproductive health through advocacy.

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