Palm Springs won’t comply with states attempting to investigate patients seeking abortion services

A resolution passed Thursday evening by the City Council has specific language affirming that law enforcement here will not comply with attempts to investigate patients who travel to California seeking care.

Seeking to voice clear support for women who may come to the area from a neighboring state hostile to women’s reproductive rights, the Palm Springs City Council Thursday evening gave its unanimous support to a measure declaring the city a safe spot for reproductive freedom.

The move follows months of reaction, including local protests, following a leaked Supreme Court ruling in May that became a reality last month. The ruling overturned Roe vs. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

“What those in my generation know is that many of our friends had to seek back-alley abortions,” said mayor Lisa Middleton before the vote. “Now here we are 50 years later, with their granddaughters now facing the kinds of hurdles that we thought we had overcome. It’s an absolute tragedy.”

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In passing the resolution, Palm Springs follows the lead of San Diego, whose city council members adopted a similar measure in May. 

The resolution passed Thursday contained changes from the original draft on the agenda. Councilmember Christy Holstege spearheaded the resolution and said changes were added after city staff conferred with Eloisa Lopez, the executive director of the Abortion Fund of Arizona, to pinpoint what they needed from a resolution.

The new resolution added specific language affirming that Palm Springs will not comply with states attempting to investigate patients who travel to California seeking an abortion. Also added to the resolution was explicit protection of minors traveling out of state to get an abortion. 

Palm Spring Police Lt. Mike Viegas affirmed the department’s stance.

“To reiterate, we do not intend to enforce or conduct any investigations related to [abortion access],” he said. “We stand behind our city leaders.”

Attendees of an abortion rights rally outside Palm Springs City Hall in May listen to speakers.

Lopez said Thursday afternoon that changes introduced by Holstege were necessary as she and other abortion rights supporters surveyed the political landscape across multiple states hostile to reproductive rights and tried to predict what enforcement would look like on the ground. 

“Who will actually be criminally charged — abortion providers? People that financially help someone get an abortion? Someone that just drives someone to get an abortion?” Lopez asked. “What’s the criminal risk for someone taking one abortion pill in a state where it’s legal and taking the second pill in a state where it’s illegal? Some states are considering a law that would mean kidnapping charges for anyone helping a minor cross state lines to get an abortion.

“We’re moving into a future where states want to surveil the every move of pregnant people. It’s really frightening to be moving into that territory.”

The most recent data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows more than 13,000 abortions were performed in the state in 2020. Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, told the Los Angeles Times she expects “as many as 6,000 women to leave Arizona annually to get an abortion.” She predicts most will drive to California, where the closest abortion providers are in San Diego and the Inland Empire. 

Area residents who spoke before the Council’s vote Thursday evening voiced strong support for the resolution while also voicing their fears for a post-Roe future.

“I am 17 years old, and I’m terrified that the U.S. government might force me to be pregnant in my lifetime,” said Elise Pardue, a Palm Desert High School junior and president of Feminism in Action. “Abortion is healthcare, and denying abortion access means denying basic human rights.”

Issues raised by Pardue also concern Lopez, as does the fact the country is entering uncharted territory. She said the complex patchwork of mandates and laws across multiple states and cities is of particular concern.

“With the Supreme Court decision and the lack of clarity on the laws on the books, providers in Arizona chose to stop offering abortion services because the criminal risk was so unclear,” she said. 

With all the confusion halting abortions in the state and leaving patients and providers in limbo, Lopez said she was especially grateful for Palm Springs to so clearly put into writing its conviction to protect reproductive healthcare. 

“It’s so heartwarming to see the states that do have access to abortion stand firm on their ground to protect our residents’ access,” she said. “We’re so grateful to Palm Springs for coming to us and asking how they can be supportive.”

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