EDMONDS — Edmonds could become one of the first cities in the state to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, directing police to not investigate people seeking or providing abortions.
“This is one of the first resolutions that I’ve seen at the local level,” said Leah Rutman, health care and liberty counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. “It’s fantastic to see city council moving forward and taking proactive measures to support further securing the rights that exist here. It’s just essential right now.”
Edmonds City Councilmembers Laura Johnson and Susan Paine wrote a draft proposal over the weekend affirming the city’s support of “abortion rights and other reproductive rights.”
“It makes clear police won’t put resources to enforcing other states’ laws,” Laura Johnson said.
One elective abortion provider operates just outside of city limits, and the resolution would have no immediate impact on city code. Sgt. Josh McClure, an Edmonds Police spokesperson, said the agency has never investigated those seeking or providing abortions, and the topic has “not been anything we’ve ever entertained as an agency.”
McClure said the department hasn’t discussed it since Friday’s ruling.
The City Council heard public comment on the issue Tuesday. Council President Vivian Olson said she would add the proposal to the agenda July 5, to give council members more time to “be thoughtful” about the wording of the resolution. She’s also weighing the role of local government in responding to the Supreme Court ruling, she said.
“That is the question to be sure; we are all trying to wrap our heads around that very thing,” Olson told The Daily Herald in an email. “It used to be very clear that this wasn’t a local issue. Now I’m less sure.”
Councilmember Neil Tibbott, executive director of a church-planting organization, called for a new clause in the resolution Tuesday evening, asserting “the unborn also have rights.” He said he’s pro-life from “womb to tomb.”
Last week, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned constitutional protections for abortion that had stood for half a century. In the final opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey were wrong. The decision was seen as a victory for “civil and human rights” by many conservatives, and a violation of human rights by others, including hundreds of people protesting in Everett, Monroe and elsewhere.
“Friday’s decision was shocking for many of us, and we received many calls from people that were not just concerned — they were terrified,” Laura Johnson said Tuesday. “This is time-sensitive. This was not done as a surprise. This was done in response to federal action, in response to calls from the community. This was done as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”
She pushed for the proposal to be added to the agenda Tuesday night, but four other council members voted to wait.
The resolution would urge federal officials to codify the right to “abortion and other reproductive healthcare nationwide,” and to restore Roe v. Wade’s protections through legislation.
If adopted, it would codify the city’s support of people defending against “this historic attack on the rights of women, pregnant people, and the LGBTQ community.” It could coincide with an executive order from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that would tell the Washington State Patrol to not cooperate with out-of-state calls for investigations of abortion patients or providers. Inslee announced Saturday he plans to issue the order this week.
Earlier this week, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said he would refuse to cooperate in prosecutions of those who seek or provide abortions. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is leading an effort to make the city a “sanctuary” for people seeking abortions.
Speakers in Edmonds, including former local politicians and a representative from the League of Women Voters, implored the council to go further in protecting abortion rights.
Former Edmonds City Council candidate Jenna Nand said the city should consider addressing barriers to reproductive care in south Snohomish County. Nand noted there are often picketers at the Lynnwood Planned Parenthood. She suggested the council dedicate a portion of the city’s budget to birth control like Plan B pills and “safe sex” items like condoms.
A handful of speakers condemned the proposal. They argued Washington is still a safe place to access abortions and that political motives were behind the resolution.
“I grew up thinking this was resolved,” Laura Johnson said. “That the Supreme Court had spoken. That this was a right that was solidified.”
The ruling returned the issue to states.
Abortions are banned in at least seven states. States with trigger bans including Texas and Idaho will soon join that list. An estimated 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Those with money could travel to out-of-state to places like Washington for procedures. According to reporting by Bloomberg News, people in states with abortion bans will have to travel an average of 276 miles each way for appointments.
Protections for early pregnancy abortions have existed in Washington since 1970. In 1991, voters narrowly approved Initiative 120, declaring a woman has a right to choose a physician-performed abortion prior to fetal viability.
In recent years, Gov. Inslee signed bills into law requiring all health plans that offer maternity care services to also cover abortion and contraception.
Washington providers are bracing for an uptick in procedures. In 2017, 40 providers served the entire state, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Nearly 18,000 people received abortions in the state in 2020.
Laura Johnson is worried about the future for her two daughters, who will grow up in a world with fewer rights than she had, she said.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she participated in sit-ins and rallies ahead of the original Roe ruling.
“So I appreciate everyone with their anger,” Buckshnis said, “and trying to push things through and to make it sound as though we’re in a panic mode — which we are in a panic mode.”
Councilmember Will Chen said the draft resolution reflects his personal sentiment. He said he hopes the resolution signals to the community, state and nation that policies protecting “a woman’s choice” should be prioritized over “criminalizing that choice to protect their own body and reproductive lives.”
Some council members wanted more time to consider the ordinance.
“I don’t see any urgency for this,” Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said.
“A constitutional right for every woman in our nation has been abolished,” Nelson responded. “I don’t know what’s more urgent than that.”
More discussion and a vote is anticipated at the council meeting July 5.