Spokane City Council says city police shouldn't investigate abortions for other states, mayor says it's not a city issue

click to enlarge Spokane City Council says city police shouldn't investigate abortions for other states, mayor says it's not a city issue
Erick Doxey photo
The Bans Off Our Bodies rally in Spokane on May 14 was one of many across the country. In recent weeks, residents called on Spokane City Council to pass a resolution stating the city's support for abortion access and preventing the use of city resources to investigate or prosecute abortion patients or providers.

At the end of a nearly four-hour meeting Monday night, after dozens of people shared their opposition to or support for abortion rights, Spokane City Council voted 4-2 (member Zack Zappone was absent) to pass a resolution that city resources should not be used to investigate or prosecute abortions.

The non-binding resolution, which would need to be enforced by Mayor Nadine Woodward, was brought forward to address concerns for people coming to Washington from states that restrict or ban abortion. Some of those states, including Idaho, may call on local police to enforce their states' laws; some anti-abortion states are floating policies to restrict residents from traveling to other states to receive abortions.

Abortion remains legal in Washington state, which passed the right through a popular vote of the people nearly three years before Roe v. Wade was decided. With the Supreme Court's recent overturning of Roe, many states are now banning or severely restricting abortion access, which is expected to increase out-of-state travel for those seeking to end their pregnancy.


Before the council vote, more than 45 people spoke out against the resolution and more than 15 spoke in favor of it.

Those opposed listed a variety of reasons the council shouldn't pass the resolution. Many said that life begins at conception and abortion is murder, with several referencing Christian values and the Bible; multiple women shared their regret about the abortions they'd had and how their viewpoint had changed to be against abortion access because of that; others still said the issue is not one the council has authority over and chastised the council for spending time on the resolution.

Those in favor of the resolution also shared diverse viewpoints. Some noted that bodily autonomy is so absolute in other situations that you can't require anyone to donate blood or organs to save another life without their express consent, even after they've died; some referred to the days before Roe when women tragically died from botched illegal abortions; a trans man shared that if he were to get pregnant it would be a medical emergency, underscoring the need to protect access; others said the resolution was necessary to prevent other states from trying to exert authority over a health care procedure that is legal here.

Council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle, who both opposed the resolution, had tried to amend its language during an afternoon session on Monday. Cathcart attempted to add language stating that abortions may not be obtained to select for the sex of a child or because of a genetic difference such as Down's Syndrome. He also tried to add language preventing abortion to select for sexual orientation, prompting questions as to whether that is or will ever even be possible. Bingle attempted to add language saying that life starts at conception and wanted to change the resolution's wording to make it clear that the resolution represents the views of the majority of the City Council and not the entire council or the city itself. All of their amendments failed to get enough support from the rest of the council.


Before the vote Monday evening, Bingle shared that he and his wife have struggled with infertility, trying for several years before their son was born. He said he feels that federal lawmakers should codify personhood from the moment of conception.

"I remember being in the doctor's office looking at the sonogram of our 20-week-old son and thinking 'That's a baby.' I don't think anybody could look at a sonogram and say anything other than 'That's a baby,'" Bingle said. "I think the issue of this resolution and of abortion in general is, when is a human a human? That's the question before us."

He also questioned the willingness of the progressive majority of the council to cite the importance of the will of the voters (something he agrees with) when they haven't necessarily agreed with votes on other issues such as adding fluoride to the water or open public bargaining.

"I think there's a lot of issues in the city and in the state that we, frankly, don't care what the voters have to say because it disagrees with the people in charge," Bingle said.

He called on the council to respect bodily autonomy and bring back firefighters who lost their jobs because they refused to get COVID vaccines.


Other members shared a variety of reasons for supporting the resolution.

Council member Karen Stratton shared stories of frustrated constituents who are dealing with rampant crime in their neighborhoods and not getting police responses for things such as break-ins or drag racing.

"You call the police and they are so short staffed, they don't show up," Stratton said. "It's a resource that we have that is stretched so thin, that I don't even want to go there with, we're going to give them one more thing to do."


Council member Betsy Wilkerson echoed those sentiments. Council member Lori Kinnear also said she doesn't want to spend city resources investigating women who've come to Spokane for health care resources.

Cathcart said he would love to debate adding 65 more police officers, but said the issue of abortion is not a city-level issue.

Zappone, who was unable to attend the meeting due to pre-arranged travel, sent out a statement of support for the resolution and called on Mayor Woodward to issue a statement as to whether she plans to enforce it. Woodward told the Spokesman-Review before Monday's vote that she doesn't think it's her place to comment on state and federal issues that are out of her purview.

"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," Zappone said in his statement. "Spokanites deserve to know whether or not our tax dollars will fund out-of-state investigations to prosecute women and providers for abortion services."

When asked by the Inlander on Tuesday whether she planned to enforce the resolution, Woodward sent a statement similar to what she told other media.

"This is not a City issue. It is a state and federal issue," Woodward's statement reads. "Access to women’s health care in Washington and Spokane will not change because of the Supreme Court’s decision."

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...