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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council considers resolution to limit city involvement in abortion investigations and reaffirm right to procedure

July 24, 2022 Updated Mon., July 25, 2022 at 2:25 p.m.

Hundreds of abortion-rights supporters gather on May 14 in Riverfront Park for a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally that was organized by Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Hundreds of abortion-rights supporters gather on May 14 in Riverfront Park for a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally that was organized by Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

The Spokane City Council will vote on legislation Monday that, if approved, would seek to prohibit using city resources to assist in investigations or prosecution against abortion patients or providers.

Specifically, the resolution requests that the mayor enforce policy that no city employee “shall assist in the interference, investigation, or prosecution of any individual exercising the same rights enjoyed by Washington residents to an abortion or pregnancy outcome, nor any Spokane provider of such services that are guaranteed to Washington residents” by state law, according to the resolution. The resolution is nonbinding; Mayor Nadine Woodward, who would not have to follow it, declined to comment on the proposal.

The resolution follows the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortion is legal in Washington, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed a directive prohibiting state troopers from cooperating with out-of-state abortion investigations or prosecutions.

The Spokane City Council resolution reaffirms support in state law protecting “the fundamental right to personal autonomy and privacy” in reproductive decisions, including abortion, according to the resolution.

The legislation would also express the City Council’s “firm opposition” in the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, while urging federal lawmakers to codify abortion rights.

“There’s a fear, I think, that based on reports from across the country, that other states would try to criminally prosecute people and they would reach out to our law enforcement to try to get their cooperation,” Council President Breean Beggs, the resolution’s sponsor, said last week.

The resolution is similar to one passed Tuesday by the Boise City Council that, among other provisions, established policy to not assign city resources or prioritize investigations for prosecuting abortion providers. The Boise policy does not apply to investigations involving coercion or use of force, criminal negligence and cases where an abortion is investigated as evidence of another crime. The proposed Spokane resolution does not include that language.

“Ultimately, I think it’s really important that, as leaders of this city, we’re charged with holding the values of our city,” Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, who proposed the resolution, said Tuesday at the City Council meeting. “And not just holding them, but speaking to them and standing up for them at the times that we must, because if not us, then who?”

The Spokane Police Department does not have a policy around responding to miscarriages or abortions given how neither are crimes, Spokane police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said.

Humphreys said police leaders could not comment on the City Council resolution, as they haven’t seen the legislation or been brought in for any discussions about the proposed policy. Beggs said while city officials have discussed abortion access and health care with police leadership several times, they have not discussed this specific resolution directly.

Spokane’s resolution would be up to Woodward and the city administration to enforce if approved by the City Council.

Woodward, however, does not believe the resolution is necessary, saying she doesn’t see a scenario in which Spokane police or any other city employees would be involved in that type of investigation.

“It’s a what-if, I suppose,” Woodward said last week. “Are we assuming that’s going to happen? I don’t know. And I think if someone crossed state lines for access to health care that they can’t get in their own state, that would become a federal issue.

“I don’t like commenting on ‘what-ifs,’ and I made it very clear when I ran for this position that I wasn’t going to talk about things that had nothing to do with my job as mayor, and that is a state and federal issue, so I’m not going to comment on that.”

But the idea of states with abortion bans attempting to stop their citizens from traveling to other states to obtain an abortion is being pushed by some organizations, including the Thomas More Society and the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, according to the Washington Post.

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, according to the Washington Post. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”

There are no criminal bans to date that prohibit interstate travel for women to receive an abortion. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this month aimed at protecting patients’ rights to travel for abortion services, but the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate.

Michael Overton, an assistant professor of political science and public administration for the University of Idaho , said one scenario Spokane officers could face is if they’re called by investigators from states with abortion bans seeking information about people who have traveled for care. That’s barring any changes at the federal level.

“Yeah, Texas can call. They can try,” he said, referring to Inslee’s directive. “But unless you have a law enforcement officer going rogue – going outside of city policy and law – then nothing should be shared and there should be no concern for cooperating across state lines, in that case.”

Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, referenced a Spokane police investigation in March 2021 involving a miscarriage in a hotel room.

“That shows how the Spokane Police Department could potentially cooperate into an investigation for a pregnancy outcome,” he said.

Responding to a Spokesman-Review article from June 2021 on the miscarriage investigation, Spokane police on Friday emphasized such investigations center around whether a baby was born alive and potentially abandoned, a determination that requires evaluation by the county Medical Examiner’s Office. Police said officers that March conducted an initial investigation in case medical evidence pointed to abandonment or that the fetus was otherwise harmed, “not for the purpose of criminalizing a medical incident.”

Dillon said Planned Parenthood is excited to see the City Council’s resolution come forward, citing the Idaho bans to criminalize abortion access moving through the courts next month, efforts by states to instate travel bans and the increase in patients seen at Spokane abortion providers after the Supreme Court decision.

Planned Parenthood has continually called on Woodward specifically to take a stance on abortion since the overturn of Roe was announced.

“It really is important that our city leader send a message that Spokane is a place where you can safely access abortion,” Dillon said. “There’s certainly a role to play with law enforcement with these questions of extradition and how these laws will be enforced for patients that are traveling.”

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