Socialist Kshama Sawant Leads Campaign to Establish Abortion Rights Sanctuary Law in Seattle
SEATTLE – Representatives from the Office of Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), Chair of the Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee, issued the following statement, congratulating activists for winning the legislation (C.B. 120375) from her office to make Seattle an Abortion Rights Sanctuary City:
“Congratulations to all the activists who organized alongside Socialist Alternative and my Council office to ensure City Council Democrats voted YES to make Seattle and Abortion Rights Sanctuary city. We won this thanks to the thousands of our city’s activists and young people who determinedly protested the deeply reactionary and barbaric ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
“By winning this landmark legislation, Seattle’s workers, young people, and socialists have demonstrated what it means to be in solidarity with the working class across city and state borders. Laws violating basic bodily autonomy and criminalizing reproductive healthcare are fundamentally unjust, and our movement will not allow Seattle to be complicit.
“The legislation makes Seattle a sanctuary for women and pregnant people, and their doctors and other care providers facing persecution for seeking and performing abortions. It prohibits Seattle police from arresting people, either patients or providers, based on outstanding warrants, or otherwise aiding in investigations, related to anti-abortion laws around the country. Let anyone threatened by draconian anti-abortion laws come to Seattle without fear of prosecution!
“This will unfortunately not make unjust arrest warrants go away. That will require building a powerful women’s rights and LGBTQ rights movement nationally to win back the right to bodily autonomy. But the legislation will mean that people with abortion-related arrest warrants can live in Seattle without being extradited to whatever state is attempting to prosecute them. This is decisive because the police of other states and cities do not have the power to arrest outside their jurisdiction. And if Seattle Police, the County Sheriff, and Washington State Patrol refuse to do those arrests based on anti-abortion laws, there is no law enforcement agency left to arrest you for having provided or sought an abortion.
“Tragically, we find ourselves in the need of such legislation because of the failure of the Democratic Party to codify Roe vs. Wade over 50 years, and even in the recent months they failed to put up any real fight. Every Democratic president since the Roe ruling had clear majorities during the first part of their terms to make it the law of the land and protect abortion. It is now up to our social movements to defend this basic right, and also to recognize the lesson: we need a new party for working people.
“If this legislation passes in Seattle alone, it will have a vital impact on protecting many women and LGBTQ people. However, if winning it here can help it spread to other cities and states, the impact could be truly profound. If half the states in the nation refuse to extradite people under investigation for breaking anti-abortion laws in the other half of the states, those laws will become extremely difficult to enforce. My office has already been contacted by elected officials in several cities and counties, interested in similar legislation. Thank you to Chicago Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Minneapolis City Councilmember Robin Wonsley, both members – like me – of the Democratic Socialists of America, who plan to push for similar legislation in their respective cities.
“Thank you, especially, to Heidi M. Wegleitner, District 2 Supervisor in Dane County, Wisconsin, who met with me and other activists yesterday, and who wrote to the Seattle City Council in strong support of our legislation. As Supervisor Wegleitner said:
“The immediate impact is severe and sickening in my state, where we have an abortion ban on the books from 1849. The abortion ban makes it a felony crime to provide an abortion unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother. The are no exceptions for rape, incest, or other health issues of the parent. After Roe, for fifty years, the 173 year old law was not enforced. … After the Dobbs decision was announced, abortion providers stopped scheduling appointments in Wisconsin. Now pregnant persons in Wisconsin need to find a way to get to an abortion provider in a state where they can still access an abortion, like Illinois or Minnesota. They have to line up the funds not just for the procedure or pills, but arrange transportation and lodging. And, they have to wait, likely much longer, to get the care they need. They have to worry that our State legislature will enact even more draconian restrictions on their right to pursue the health care they need in other places. … I plan to pursue legislation to prohibit county resources from being used to report, investigate, or prosecute any person for violating the 1849 abortion ban. I write to let you know that your commitment to protecting those providing and seeking abortion care is incredibly important to me. It’s important to me as a woman who has been pregnant four times, but only birthed one child. It’s important to me as a fellow local elected official working with other legislators, activists, public health officials, and health care providers to figure out how to do everything in our power to push back against the horrifying 1849 abortion ban in a country which no longer recognizes the constitutional right to access an abortion.
“Please vote “yes” on this bill and reject any attempts to water it down… As policy-makers, we have a responsibility to use our power to protect human rights. When we choose to change the words in a policy to “request” something instead of “requiring it” we are failing the people who elected us. Anyone can request something of a government body. Legislative bodies, like your Council, can require it. Watering down this bill would render it virtually meaningless. Pregnant people and people with uteruses in my state and in yours need more than grandstanding, they need real legislation which will protect them.”
“This legislation is very different than Washington State bills (such as HB 1851) and legal opinions which protect people who perform or have an abortion in Seattle, including if a pregnant person lives in another state and comes to Seattle to have an abortion because their state bans them. Those laws are good to have, but they do nothing to protect people who perform or have an abortion in a state where they are banned (breaking those unjust laws), and need refuge – and that is what this legislation will address. If people break the unjust anti-abortion laws in their own state, and believe they will be caught, they can come to Seattle to be protected from prosecution.
“After I announced this legislation at a press conference, Governor Inslee issued an executive order and Mayor Harrell pledged at a press conference to temporarily instruct state and city police not to aid in those out of state abortion related investigations. However, those executive orders are significantly weaker than this legislation, because they make no mention of out-of-state arrest warrants. They are also no substitute for actually codifying those protections into law, which our legislation will do. The overturning of Roe shows the importance of codifying human rights into law.
“Thank you to the over five thousand five hundred people who signed the public petition from my office in support of this legislation. Special thanks go to the rank-and-file union members who have supported this, and local unions who have endorsed the legislation: UAW 4121, who represent thousands of graduate student workers, the Resident & Fellow Physicians Union NW (RFPU), who represent physicians and residents at the University of Washington Hospital, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3197, representing the healthcare workers of the Seattle Veterans Administration.
“Thank you to Real Change, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), and the Puget Sound Mobilization for Reproductive Justice, who have publicly supported the legislation, and Socialist Alternative, whose members have been tabling almost daily across the city and gathering thousands of petition signatures. All these organizations have endorsed this important legislation.
“This fall, the People’s Budget will also be bringing a budget amendment to fund free abortions in Seattle, both for residents and those escaping right-wing anti-abortion laws in their own states. This is another way that Seattle, and hopefully other cities and states as well, can work to make these deeply unjust and right-wing laws difficult to enforce.”