By Tracy Simmons
Members of the Spokane City Council spent more than three hours Monday night listening to residents mostly air their opinions about abortion. The ordinance drawing the crowd, which passed 6-1, revised Spokane’s Municipal Code to include driveways in an ordinance about obstructing traffic.
The ordinance states that demonstrators can no longer block any private business driveways and although it applies to all local businesses, the frequent protests at Planned Parenthood are what stirred the lengthy deliberation.
“We’re not having an abortion debate this evening. I’m sorry that’s what the conversation about this has become, but we’re not going to have a discussion on abortion,” said Council President Ben Stuckart,” Really the Supreme Court decided that with Roe V. Wade.”
However members of The Sidewalk Advocates for Life said the ordinance couldn’t be separated from the issue. They said it is a stain on the First Amendment, some adding that with it the Council was “doing the bidding for Planned Parenthood.”
Faith Howard, who stands outside Planned Parenthood for two hours every week, said by working with the Sidewalk Advocates for Life she’s simply offering conversation with those entering the building.
“I invite them to roll down their windows, accept our literature, have a brief conversation with us,” she said. “I don’t believe I’m interfering in anyway with the safety of traffic in that area.”
The advocates said they don’t block the driveway and go through thorough safety training so they know how to demonstrate without posing risk to themselves or others.
Others at the meeting, however, said they’ve seen protestors blocking cars in the driveway.
Nick Frost, who owns a business near Planned Parenthood, said he’s witnessed protestors in the organization’s driveway and applauded the Council for taking a proactive move on the issue.
“It usually takes a very bad thing to happen for a law like this to happen,” he said. “I fully support this. I don’t think it’s taking away any liberties. How can they not get their point across if they’re standing three feet over?”
The Rev. Todd Eklof of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane agreed, noting that blocking traffic in an attempt at free speech is undemocratic.
City Councilman Mike Fagan disagreed. He said the ordinance favored Planned Parenthood and targeted a specific group in an attempt to squelch their free speech.
The other six council members, however, voted in favor of the ordinance.
“Sadly this issue has turned into left versus right, life versus death,” said Councilwoman Karen Stratton. “The greatest thing my Catholic background taught me was be courteous of others, respectful of others and speak my mind….You have the right to protest…Just don’t do it in a driveway.”
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.
I drive by there all the time and mostly see a little lady praying, standing next to the driveway. Sometimes there’s been the “graphic sign folks’ which I find troubling for the families of children who walk or drive by, such insensitivity is obnoxious to me. I get that they are trying to pull the veil off the horrific acts going on inside such places but I think it ‘hurts not helps’ the cause. Nobody has porn pics on their placards as they protect the strip bars etc. I get that the issue isn’t apples to apples but the logic is close in my estimation.
I listened to a Moody talk show about abortion this week. Specifically, it centered on an organization that is trying to “save” people who work at clinics from continuing to work in such a setting. The woman representing the organization acknowledged that having graphic signs on a college campus is different from having them at, say, Bloomsday (which happened a couple years back). At EWU I found the signs just as ineffective as they were at Bloomsday, but then again I’m not on the fence about the legality of abortion. What I thought about during the Moody show was whether protestors with graphic signs would be equally enthusiastic about the kinds of signs PETA protestors often carry, which depict the deplorable, torturous fates of animals in factory farming compounds. I would assume that anyone who feels strongly enough about abortion to carry a graphic sign of an aborted fetus would also want to carry the PETA signs to protest another defilement of God’s creation. But I digress.