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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Proposed law aims to reduce impact of Planned Parenthood protests in Spokane

A group of anti-abortion activists organized by Covenant Church showed up on Feb. 2 for their monthly "worship service" in front of Planned Parenthood. Spokane police did not enforce on Tuesday a recently passed noise ordinance passed in response to loud protests at the site. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Leaders of the Church of Planned Parenthood say their regular protests are not intended to disrupt the facility’s services.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear wants to make sure of it.

Kinnear introduced a new law Monday that she said aims to respect free speech and the protesters’ right to their opinion, while ensuring their chorus of objection does not intrude on the services inside the health care facility’s walls.

“It does not impact free speech. Protests are still allowed, that’s not the issue. It’s about noise,” Kinnear said.

The South Hill councilwoman drafted a law that would set specific protections for health care facilities like Planned Parenthood from intrusive and disruptive noise.

The proposal is a direct response to the Church at Planned Parenthood, a regular gathering of anti-abortion activists outside the Planned Parenthood on Indiana Avenue, but would apply to any health care facility in Spokane.

Kinnear has been to a Church at Planned Parenthood event, and said “I couldn’t hear myself think.”

The Public Safety and Community Health Committee briefly reviewed the proposal on Monday.

Kinnear, who chairs the committee, called for feedback from other council members and signaled she would place the ordinance on the City Council’s docket for a final vote on March 2.

The new law would supplement the city’s existing noise ordinance, which Planned Parenthood officials and the nonprofit’s supporters have argued is not adequately enforced when scores of people gather outside its walls.

The proposal would bar activity that, intentionally or otherwise, causes “jeopardy to the health of persons receiving health services within the building” or “interference with the safe and effective delivery of health services within the building.”

“We’ve seen inconsistent enforcement from the Spokane Police Department and hopefully this ordinance would address those issues,” said Paul Dillon, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Idaho.

Dillon said noise from the gatherings can be disruptive to the facility’s operations.

“It has a negative impact on staff and patients. We’ve had to move patients to other exam rooms. Patients are already experiencing a variety of stressors sometimes, and so the noise levels are just piling on,” Dillon said.

Kinnear’s proposal also mirrors Washington state law, which already prohibits interference with a health care facility.

“Clearly, the state’s law has not been enforced,” Kinnear said. “It’s time as a city we step up and say this is important and it needs to be enforced.”

Ken Peters, pastor of Covenant Church and a leader of the Church at Planned Parenthood, said the protesters have consciously worked with police to comply with the city’s existing noise ordinance and would comply with the new law if it’s adopted.

“We are not there to disrupt them, we are there to call on God and worship and pray for the end of abortion,” Peters said.

The Church of Planned Parenthood events start at 5:30 p.m., 30 minutes before Planned Parenthood closes. When asked why he does not start the event after 6 p.m. to avoid disrupting Planned Parenthood, Peters said, “I very well may do that.”

The clinic stops accepting patients at 6 p.m. and closes at 7 p.m.

“We’re not trying to stop their business. But we are, by worshipping there, bringing attention to what we believe is the American Holocaust and the slavery issue of our day,” Peters said.

Planned Parenthood’s services not only include abortion, but testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and a variety of other screenings and exams.

Kinnear’s draft would rely on police to warn protesters of a potential violation before any enforcement actions are taken, but also enable individuals and health care providers to take legal action on their own. It includes a clause allowing “aggrieved” parties – including health care facilities, staff members or the patients inside them – to privately take legal action against disruptors in Spokane County Superior Court.

A first violation of the law would be a civil infraction, but a second within a year would be charged as a gross misdemeanor that could carry a punishment of at least 24 hours in jail and at least a $500 fine.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 to add details about Planned Parenthood’s closing times.