Abortion rights safe in Seattle, authorities say: City, county, state promise no cooperation with out-of-state prosecutions

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Photo courtesy of Washington State Office of the Governor
Photo courtesy of Washington State Office of the Governor

King County Executive Dow Constantine became the latest official in Washington state to promise that abortion rights would remain safe in their jurisdiction.

In a July 5 executive order, Constantine instructed the King County Sheriff's Office and other executive departments not to cooperate with out-of-state prosecutors trying to track down abortion providers or patients.

Abortion is legal under Washington state law, but officials here fear that officials from other states may try to prosecute their citizens who travel to Washington to get legal abortions.

For example, in Idaho, a law going into effect this month would ban abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother. Healthcare providers would face felony charges punishable by up to five years in prison for violations.

Constantine's order cites a "moral and policy imperative not to assist states" who might seek to prosecute people seeking abortions, and to prevent "other outside organizations and individuals seeking to infringe the rights of persons who obtain health care in King County."

Constantine said the order sends "a message that we will not allow these backward, dangerous, and spiteful policies to further degrade people's privacy and liberty."

"Access to reproductive health care is a right in King County and Washington State and the King County Sheriff's Office will work to uphold access to that right in line with our laws and this new order," King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said.

The King County Council has also approved $500,000 in emergency funding for the Northwest Abortion Access Fund to provide abortion care, travel, and lodging expenses for people traveling to King County from other states seeking abortions.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a similar order to state authorities. In a June 25 speech, the governor said he would instruct the Washington State Patrol not to cooperate with law enforcement officials from other states who may seek to prosecute violations of their states' abortion laws as people travel to Washington seeking abortions.

Inslee also said he would support legislation to make that a statewide policy, binding other Washington law enforcement agencies to the same prohibition. He also promised to work with the state legislature to increase health care resources, starting with $1 million, to deal with an expected increase in people coming to the state for abortion care.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell promised that the Seattle Police Department will not help enforce abortion laws in other states in a June 27 press conference. Harrell also committed $250,000 of city funding for the Northwest Abortion Access Fund.

"The city of Seattle will not engage in punitive and reactionary efforts to enforce this aggressive assault on our constituents' bodies," Harrell said. "The Seattle Police Department... will not participate in enforcing the criminal laws of other states that are inconsistent with Washington laws and, most importantly, our values."

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has introduced legislation to make Seattle an "abortion rights sanctuary." If passed, the legislation would prevent Seattle police from arresting patients, doctors, or other care providers for warrants related to anti-abortion laws in other states.

Sawant also promised to bring budget legislation to make abortion free in Seattle for people traveling from states with anti-abortion laws, as well as for Seattle residents.