Portland and NYC directly fund abortions. Why not Seattle?
Portland and NYC directly fund abortions. Why not Seattle? HK

On Monday evening, Politico leaked a draft majority opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 court ruling that still federally protects abortion rights, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1993 decision that allows states to restrict the medical procedure even further but that ultimately upholds its predecessor.

In Seattle and Washington, where lawmakers made abortion “Trump proof,” according to the Seattle Times, it is easy for local leaders to disavow SCOTUS’s ruling and move on. But Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF) program manager Iris Alatorre said local leaders need to put their money where their mouth is and invest in the organizations that are on the ground and helping pregnant people access abortions.

When local leaders took to social media to share their disgust with the ruling, the Mayor of Seattle said the city must continue to be a place where abortion and reproductive health care are available to all:

But Seattle will not “continue” to have accessible abortion on its own.

“Nothing about the work to protect abortion rights is passive,” Kia Guarino, Executive Director for Pro-Choice Washington wrote in an email.

Right now, even where abortion is most “accessible,” Alatorre said systems are completely overwhelmed. Overturning Roe v. Wade would mean that the number of “women of reproductive age” seeing Washington as the closest place to seek abortion care would increase by 385%, per estimates from the Guttmacher Institute. According to Courtney Normand, the Washington State Director for Planned Parenthood, pregnant people flocking to Washington even more than they currently do will threaten access to abortions, family planning, birth control, and even cancer screenings in Seattle. That’s why investing in abortion infrastructure at the city level is “imperative,” Normand said, as it is the most immediate and beneficial way the city can help.

Cities have the power and the money to make a “substantial” impact, Alatorre said. For example, in 2019, New York City became the first city to fund abortion access in its budget. More recently, Normand said the City of Portland “showed Seattle up” and gave $200,000 to NWAAF, which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. NWAAF would ask that further funds come with fewer restrictions.

So far, though some local leaders have condemned the draft SCOTUS opinion, the City of Seattle has not pledged any new investments to abortion funds or to independent providers following the breaking news.

“I mean, it’s helpful to take a stance, but when it comes down to it, it’s going to be real, material investments that get people abortion care,” Alatorre said.

I asked the Mayor’s Office if the City planned to set aside money for abortion access funds, and mayoral spokesperson Jamie Housen directed me to Public Health – Seattle & King County, as they lead efforts around reproductive health services. I sent the Public Health department the same questions, and its spokesperson said the department also is not the right entity to ask. The spokesperson suggest the Executive's office. At a "rally" to protect abortion this afternoon, King County Executive Dow Constantine said he will “commit every resource” to people seeking abortion, but he didn’t offer any specific plans.

Housen added that the Mayor’s Office will “continue to closely follow these developments and engage with providers, patients, and advocates to review data and best support additional needs as they emerge.”

Similarly, Budget Chair and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said the council will “continue to work with our state partners to expand access to health coverage for those who don't have it.” She and Normand both praised the state for allocating $7.4 million to support abortion providers and health care access in HB 1851 last session.

As far as specific investments from the council, Mosqueda said she could not speak on behalf of the council or what budget actions it may take later this fall. While most of the council’s budgeting happens toward the end of the year, the coming supplemental budget also presents an opportunity to move money around.

Even without a clear plan, she said she is confident in the City’s “strong track record of making sure that we're protecting services and providers as well from prosecution.”

She seemed most focused on supporting the effort to codify Roe into federal law, a policy that Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted about last night. Changing the statute will require action from Congress, so the council can effect change by working with Washington's congressional delegation and with the Biden administration, she said.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant took issue with that strategy. In reference to the same tweet from Sanders, she called it “a misplaced focus on legislative means.”

In a press release, Sawant said activists won Roe v. Wade through a mass movement, and so she will attempt to protect it through similar means. On Tuesday night, Sawant will host a rally to defend abortion access at 6 pm in Westlake Park. I asked if Sawant would bring forth any related legislation, such as allocating City money to abortion funds, and I will update if she responds.

Alatorre said she’s disappointed but not surprised that the City doesn’t have an immediate plan to give money to struggling abortion access funds.

“I don't have high expectations for legislators and politicians. I very much operate in the present moment, serving the people in my community, supporting them and getting the abortion care that they need directly versus waiting for laws to change,” she said.

But Normand said that just because Seattle has not gotten its “duck’s in a row” quite like Portland, she is confident that the will to help exists. As Councilmember Dan Strauss said in an email statement, “All options are on the table to safeguard abortion access.”