Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council pushes to bar city employees from assisting abortion investigations

Longtime anti-abortion activist Fay Hauer, left, speaks with Sumilee Valle, on far right, and with abortion supporters gathered Monday outside of Spokane City Hall.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN)

Abortion rights supporters and opponents filled the Spokane City Council chambers Monday night as lawmakers passed a resolution aimed at barring Spokane city employees, including police officers, from assisting in investigations or the prosecution of abortion patients or providers.

The resolution would also reaffirm state law protecting abortion rights for pregnant women and individuals, while calling on federal lawmakers to codify those rights following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, who cosponsored the legislation, said the measure is 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.”

While the measure sparked intense debate, it is nonbinding and Mayor Nadine Woodward has declined to comment if she will follow the recommendation. She has said the matter is not a city concern.

The measure proved controversial, with citizens on both sides of the abortion debate making their views known through a public comment period that saw more than 40 speakers over more than two and a half hours. The majority of speakers were against the resolution.

“I do not want to spend city resources investigating women for health care resources. It’s that simple,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear. “Our public safety resources are in short supply.”

Woodward’s stance has resulted in frustration from abortion rights supporters, including dozens of demonstrators who rallied Monday evening outside of Spokane City Hall with signs and chants that included “My body, my choice” and “Keep your theology off my biology.”

“Our patients and our providers are scared,” said Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “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.”

Supporters of abortion rights stood opposed to a few dozen abortion rights opponents before many from the groups each filed into City Hall.

The resulting crowd filed City Hall’s council chambers to capacity, forcing anyone who couldn’t get a seat to move into the overflow area outside of the room. More than 40 people spoke during the public comment period for the resolution, with the majority of those against the measure.

“A women’s body is a nesting place for the baby that she has in there. It is not scar tissue. It is not a blob of tissue,” said former Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin. “It’s human life.”

The crowd observed a 4-2 vote, with councilmen Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle opposed. Councilman Zack Zappone was absent for the final vote.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton said the people in her district are more concerned with public safety than they are with her views on abortion.

In that respect, Stratton said she would rather have police officers focusing on keeping neighborhoods safe rather than assisting with abortion-related investigations.

“It’s police protection to me,” she said. “It’s a resource that we have that is stretched so thin that I don’t even want to go there.”

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said her vote was not representative of her views for or against abortion, but rather allocating city resources.

“That’s when it becomes city business: When it starts costing money to enforce,” she said, “and that comes out of taxpayer dollars. We have lots of other issues to deal with.”

Several amendments proposed by Bingle and Cathcart were defeated prior to the legislative meeting.

Cathcart’s amendments sought to include wording to advocate for making abortions explicitly illegal for gender selection, sexual orientation or preventing the birth of children with genetic disorders. Another amendment advocated for requiring parental or guardians 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.”

Cathcart’s amendments failed on 5-2 votes with him and Bingle in support, except Kinnear joined Bingle and Cathcart in advocating for banning abortion for the purpose of gender selection.

“Any of these are not the state of the law in Washington, which we are defending in this resolution and it conflates and confuses the issue, so I’m opposing it on that ground,” Beggs said.

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.

“Washington state is going to indefinitely remain a pro-abortion state, which means the city of Spokane will indefinitely remain a pro-abortion city, regardless of any resolution the City Council conjures up,” he added.

Bingle, meanwhile, proposed amendments to strike the term pregnant “individuals,” as to only keep “pregnant woman or women;” to delete the section 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.

All of Bingle’s amendments failed on 5-2 votes, with him and Cathcart in support, except Cathcart joined the majority in opposing the amendment urging federal officials to define life as starting at conception. Cathcart said abortion should be a state, not federal, issue. 

Bingle also sought language to state explicitly that the measure was supported by the majority of the City Council, and not the council as a whole, saying “a large amount of the city fundamentally disagrees with this issue.” Bingle equated the issue to the situation involving Spokane firefighters who were laid off, chose to retire or reassigned after refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations last fall.

“Bring back the firefighters if that is our stance that bodily autonomy matters,” Bingle said. “If personal health care decisions matter and shouldn’t be challenged by the state, then bring back the firefighters.”

Zappone said in a statement he is proud the council “has stepped up to do the right thing.”

“This is not a what-if scenario. It is a reality individuals face today,” he said, referencing comments Woodward made to The Spokesman-Review last week on the issue. “Unfortunately, the mayor is the only person who can direct police and city staff to not assist other states in their investigations. So far, the mayor has failed to do so. I am calling on the mayor today to make a statement one way or another.”