Days before the Spokane City Council considers legislation that could limit the impact of protests outside Planned Parenthood, Mayor Nadine Woodward met with representatives from the health clinic and The Church at Planned Parenthood.
As tensions between the two entities continue unabated, Woodward met separately with representatives from both this week. City Council President Breean Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear were also present for the meetings.
Leaders of the Church of Planned Parenthood say the intention of their events is not to disrupt the Indiana Avenue facility. The group holds regular, amplified gatherings outside Planned Parenthood to express opposition to abortion through song and prayer.
But Planned Parenthood representatives have long held that the protests are a purposeful intrusion on its operation in violation of city and state laws that police have chosen not to enforce.
Kinnear introduced a bill in February that would replicate, in city law, protections for health clinics that already exist under state law. The proposal would outlaw activity that 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.”
As with state law, the city’s ordinance would offer aggrieved individuals or organizations the right to pursue independent legal action against those causing the disruption.
The city, and its mayor, have an interest in the matter due to its dedication of substantial police resources at every Church at Planned Parenthood event, said city spokesman Brian Coddington.
Coddington said it was “premature” to say whether Woodward supports the proposed law or would look to veto it, noting it could still be amended prior to Monday’s vote.
At The Church at Planned Parenthood event on Wednesday, Spokane Police Sgt. Terry Preuninger said the department assigned a lieutenant, two sergeants and eight police officers in total. Intelligence briefings began at 2 p.m., and officers were expected to remain through the event.
That level of coverage comes at a cost to taxpayers, Preuninger acknowledged. But he pointed out that no major incidents have occurred this week or at any other recent Church at Planned Parenthood events. He said the department’s approach is similar to that of other cities, such as Portland.
“Departments are having to invest more resources into these events,” Preuninger said.
Kinnear said Friday she did not expect any last-minute revisions to the ordinance.
Woodward met this week with Ken Peters, a pastor of Covenant Church and a leader of Church at Planned Parenthood, and representatives from Planned Parenthood.
Peters said the meeting was a “great first step.” He called Kinnear’s proposal tyrannical and a restriction of free speech. If its protections exist in state law, Peters questioned why they need to be enshrined in city law.
“Planned Parenthood is slaughtering human life and that’s why we are there, to worship and pray. We believe this is a direct attack on us and an invitation for us to be sued, fined by the people who dislike us the most,” Peters said.
Clay Roy, The Church at Planned Parenthood director, addressed the Spokane City Council this week. He acknowledged it’s possible that disruptions have occurred at facilities around the city, but said his organization was not responsible.
“It is not, and has not ever been our intention, to disrupt anything. We simply meet, we sing, and we pray,” Roy said.
The Church at Planned Parenthood’s supporters have filled the City Council Chambers to speak during public forums since Kinnear’s proposal was introduced. They have been limited, however, by the council’s rules that prohibit speaking on future agenda items. Instead, they’ve spoken in general opposition to abortion, among other concerns.
Kinnear stressed, as she has since introducing the ordinance, that her proposal is not specific to Planned Parenthood or The Church at Planned Parenthood.
“We’ve gone over this ordinance carefully to make sure that it’s content neutral, to make sure free speech is not violated in any way and focus strictly on noise around health care facilities,” Kinnear said.
The proposal is about noise around all health care facilities, not just Planned Parenthood, Kinnear said. Still, she acknowledged she would likely not have introduced it if not for the protests outside Planned Parenthood.
“This has been going on for eight years, so we’re really past time to address this issue. We’re very late in the game. Everybody’s been patient trying to find alternatives and nothing’s worked,” Kinnear said.
Though supporters of The Church at Planned Parenthood have regularly taken to the microphone during the public forum segment of City Council meetings, Kinnear said the feedback she’s gotten personally has been overwhelmingly positive.
Paul Dillon, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Idaho, said his organization’s meeting with Woodward was productive.
“It seems like there was an understanding from the administration that this was escalating and that something needs to be done. That was how the meeting began and how the meeting ended,” Dillon said.
For Planned Parenthood, this ordinance is “much bigger” than addressing interruption from The Church at Planned Parenthood. Other protesters were outside the facility at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Dillon said.
“You have these one-off protesters that travel around the country and they feel like the word is out that they can go to Spokane and be loud and be amplified and not have any consequences,” Dillon said.
The Church at Planned Parenthood officially begins its events at 5:30 p.m.
On Wednesday, Dillon said the clinic’s last patient left at 6:30 p.m.
“This isn’t a debate about abortion, this is a debate about noise,” Dillon said.
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