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Sept. 24, 2022

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Seattle makes interfering with abortion care a misdemeanor

City also prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy outcome

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SEATTLE — It will soon be illegal in Seattle to discriminate against someone for seeking or receiving an abortion, part of the city’s efforts to preserve reproductive rights locally after federal protections were undone earlier this summer.

In a pair of bills passed Tuesday, the Seattle City Council made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their actual or perceived pregnancy outcome and added to the city’s code a statewide misdemeanor charge for interfering with health care, hoping to minimize interference and harassment against those seeking care in the wake of the Supreme Court’s undoing in June of decades-old constitutional protections for abortions.

“For the first time in our country’s history, our courts have reversed fundamental rights,” Councilmember Tammy Morales, who sponsored both bills, said Tuesday. “Every level of government has a vital role to play to ensure that bodily autonomy and self-determination are able to exist for our community members.”

The discrimination bill allows the city’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate alleged discrimination based on pregnancy outcomes as it would discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexuality or other protected classes, while the interference bill recognizes an existing state law and allows the city to prosecute interference with any health care — including abortions and gender-affirming care, which are often protested — as a misdemeanor.

Both bills passed 8-0 and will go into effect 30 days after they are signed by the mayor.

While abortion remains legal in Seattle and across Washington, the city began signaling its defense and expansion of reproductive care as soon as the Supreme Court announced the decision unraveling federal abortion rights. Most recently, the council did so by deeming Seattle a “sanctuary” for those seeking abortion, prohibiting Seattle Police from cooperating with arrests or investigations related to abortion bans in other jurisdictions.

During discussion in Tuesday’s meeting, bill co-sponsor Lisa Herbold said she was proud of the work done by the council so far, but intends to focus on broadening and strengthening protections and access to reproductive care in Seattle, as the city anticipates an uptick in “medical refugees” coming from states where care is now banned or limited.

“For pregnant people, and the people who love them, this is the big one, the catastrophic earthquake that we’ve always known is coming,” Herbold said of the Supreme Court decision. “And it’s the expected four-fold increase in people seeking abortions in Washington state that can be thought of as the tidal wave created by the earthquake that’s headed our way.”

Specifically, Herbold said her staff was researching ways to require health care facilities to be transparent about what care they will or will not provide and any restrictions on providing abortions, noting that about 50% of hospital beds are in religiously affiliated hospitals, which can limit abortions to — somewhat subjective — emergency situations.

“We’re at the beginning of this crisis. We know the tidal wave is headed here, but thanks to the extraordinary work of advocates and providers, we can make educated guesses about the impact and we can move to meet the challenges,” Herbold said.

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