A pair of new Seattle City Council bills designed to prohibit discrimination and interference with abortion care will be considered by members of the council Friday, adding to a cluster of potential policy changes intended to make the city a safe harbor for people seeking abortions.
After the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, ending constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place for almost 50 years, many of the city’s elected officials proposed ways to fund, uphold or defend the right to an abortion in Seattle, as other states banned and criminalized abortions.
This week, Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Lisa Herbold will introduce two new bills, designed to protect those seeking abortions from discrimination and penalize people who interfere with health care.
The first council bill would amend some existing city codes which prohibit discrimination based on age, race, gender, sexuality, ability or other protected classes, to also prohibit disparate treatments based on “actual, potential, perceived, or alleged pregnancy outcomes.”
“The idea is to create, as a protected class, people who are seeking abortions, especially because we anticipate that there will be a lot of people coming to Washington seeking care,” Morales said Wednesday. She has spoken out about her own abortion and has denounced the Supreme Court decision since a draft of the opinion leaked this spring.
“We want to make sure that they aren’t targeted by restaurants or hotels or any other sort of entity that they are visiting while they’re here seeking that care,” she added.
The other piece would adopt a Washington code into the city’s criminal code, recognizing interference with health care facilities and providers as a misdemeanor and allowing the city attorney to prosecute. It would also establish criminal and civil penalties for those convicted.
“[The proposed bill] creates a misdemeanor or a civil infraction for people who encroach on people seeking abortion at a reproductive health care facility, and would also extend to folks who are looking for gender affirming care,” Morales said.
The bill, which Morales said would require protesters to stay at least 8 feet away from anyone seeking care at a facility, is designed to shut down harassment of patients and providers at facilities which are often the subject of discourse.
Current state code, which would be codified into city code, prohibits physically obstructing someone’s access to a care facility, creating noise that “unreasonably disturbs the peace” within a facility, trespassing at a facility, repeatedly calling a facility and threatening the owners, agents, patients, employees or property of a facility with injury.
Those convicted can be fined between $250- $1,000 and have a minimum jail sentence of 1-30 days, depending on the number of offenses.
A spokesperson for City Attorney Anne Davison, whose office handles misdemeanor prosecutions in the city, said Wednesday that the office was reviewing the policy. They also noted Davison co-signed a June letter with 95 other elected prosecutors, “declining to use [her] office’s resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions, or prosecute those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”
The new council bills follow a June proposal by Councilmember Kshama Sawant to establish Seattle as a sanctuary city for those seeking abortion care and prevent the Seattle Police from pursuing out-of-state warrants related to abortions and. They also mirror a pledge by Mayor Bruce Harrell to allocate $250,000 to funding abortion care, which will go before the council as part of the supplemental budget bill being voted on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Harrell said Wednesday that the mayor was “still evaluating the specifics of the bill language and awaiting potential amendments,” but “supports the spirit and intent of the three bills.”
While no policies have passed in the city since the undoing of Roe v. Wade last month, Harrell said in June that Seattle police would not pursue related arrests “that are inconsistent with Washington laws and most important our values.”
Harrell’s spokesperson said Wednesday that “SPD is in alignment on this approach,” but the Mayor’s Office would “continue to explore whether additional action through Executive Order is necessary to further memorialize this arrangement.”
Despite the piecemeal approach, Morales said she believes the city’s elected officials have the same goal in mind: protecting the rights of people seeking abortion care in Seattle.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re working in sync, but there is a general consensus that as a municipality, we need to do everything we can to shore up the protections that we have and make sure that people understand that they are not going to be violating access to abortion care in this city,” Morales said.
“We are in scary times right now, and I am committed to making sure that we are doing everything we can as a region to provide the proper health information for those seeking abortions in this state and to make sure that they’re protected,” she added.
Morales and Herbold’s bills will be discussed in the council’s Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights and Culture Committee on Friday.
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