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Seattle City Council Makes People Seeking Abortions a Protected Class, Prohibits Discrimination

Seattle was officially made a sanctuary city for abortions in late July

The Seattle City Council is taking additional steps to allow abortion rights within the city.

New anti-discrimination measures were passed almost two weeks after the city council made Seattle a sanctuary city for abortions.

The council passed an ordinance on Aug. 9 making women who seek abortions a protected class, thereby guaranteeing them civil rights protections. 

Council Bill 120374 cites the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal right to abortion as part of its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health as well as Washington’s 1991 Reproductive Privacy Act, which guarantees privacy for personal reproductive decisions and bars the state government from interfering with an individual’s choice to have or not to have an abortion.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations estimate that after Dobbs Washington will see an increase in persons traveling to the state to seek abortion services,” the bill reads. “Restricting and/or denying access to abortion services will have a disproportionate impact on poor communities and Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) communities.”

Additionally, the bill acknowledges that “transgender and gender diverse people with the capacity to become pregnant face increased barriers and stigma when accessing abortion services” and formally recognizes “the dignity of all its residents, workers, and visitors.”

“The state shall not penalize, prosecute, or otherwise take adverse action against an individual based on their actual, potential, perceived, or alleged pregnancy outcomes,” the policy declares.

The council has defined a “pregnancy outcome” as the “results of a fertilization event and the results of the ensuing pregnancy as experienced by the individual who is or was pregnant.” This can include live birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, and abortion.

“Every level of government has a vital role to play to ensure body autonomy and self-determination,” says Councilwoman Tammy Morales, who sponsored the bill, in a statement. “While this is a tremendous first step today to protect those folks obtaining a safe medical procedure in our city, we are living in real time the ongoing impacts to the Supreme Court’s decision. We must be bold, courageous, and stand for our values during this pivotal time in our history.” 

“Here in Seattle, we’re very used to thinking about earthquakes, and many of us have emergency plans to help us survive the initial days of an earthquake’s aftermath,” says Councilwoman Lisa Herbold, a co-sponsor. “The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is not just any earthquake – it’s the Big One – the catastrophic earthquake we’ve always known was coming. We must get ready, and quickly – the reality is that pregnant people don’t have the luxury of time to make decisions about abortion.”   

The city council previously voted to make Seattle a sanctuary city for abortion. The bill was introduced on June 24, the day the Supreme Court overturned 1973’s Roe v. Wade. The policy prohibits the city’s law enforcement from arresting people with warrants issued in other jurisdictions on charges related to seeking or performing an abortion. Law enforcement is also barred from assisting in investigations stemming from abortion provision or procurement. 

The sanctuary city policy “follows the model of Seattle’s Initiative 75, which similarly stopped the Seattle Police Department from pursuing charges based on cannabis, which remains federally illegal,” reports The Olympian.

Six of the city council members passed the policy on June 26. The three other members were absent. 

Four days later, Governor Jay Inslee issued a directive to the Washington State Patrol that mandates officers to refuse to cooperate with investigations related to abortion that come from agencies in states that prohibit or restrict abortions.  

“Washington is and will remain a sanctuary for any person seeking abortion care and services in our state, but we must act to protect our rights and our values,” Inslee wrote.  “To that end, it is critical that our law enforcement agencies not cooperate in any manner with any out-of-state investigation, prosecution, or other legal action based on another state’s law that is inconsistent with Washington’s protections of the right to choose abortion and provide abortion-related care.”

The directive is part of a joint agreement with California and Oregon to “protect and serve those who enter our borders seeking lawful abortion services, and to adopt policies that expand those protections to address any existing gap,” the governor noted.

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