BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bakersfield City Council's vote Wednesday to indefinitely postpone its discussion of two abortion-related measures left activists on both sides wondering how members with admittedly strong anti-abortion views could make what amounted to a pro-abortion rights decision.
But the answers to how an impassioned 15-month debate ended decisively and relatively swiftly have been evident for weeks.
While several council members spoke passionately at the meeting and in interviews Friday about their anti-abortion views, a majority of the council has indicated -- as at least one member said in committee this summer -- that pragmatic concerns about exposing the city to litigation, and entering a legal area off-limits to local government, informed their decision.
At issue were a proposed ordinance and resolution.
The ordinance, tabled by the council's Legislative and Litigation Committee in May, would have allowed anyone "aggrieved" by an abortion to file a civil lawsuit and potentially recover damages including $10,000 per violation from the "... person, business, organization or government agency" providing the abortion.
The resolution commended "organizations that advocate for and educate the public about the alternatives to abortions ... ."
The 12 people who spoke against the resolution Wednesday and the 10 who supported it gave passionate examples of how access to abortion informs their lives, and of how they thought the city council should really be occupying its time.
LifeSavers Ministries Chairwoman Terri Palmquist told the more than 200 audience members at the meeting that if her son's pregnant girlfriend decided to have an abortion, she'd have no voice -- unless, of course, the council passed the anti-abortion ordinance Palmquist's husband, Tim, helped author.
"Right now, I have no hope, except my son chooses life," said Terri Palmquist, condemning the resolution and championing the ordinance. "I don't want a grandbaby dead in a bucket, and I have no hope. That's what this Human Life ordinance was about. I don't want an 'Attaboy.' I want little babies saved."
Candi Easter, chairwoman of the Kern County Democratic Party, told the council it should stick to making Bakersfield better.
"It's ridiculous. I cannot believe this council has spent so much time on a matter like this when there's high crime, there's bad air, curbs and gutters need improving, we need streetlights -- so many problems the good council should be working on to improve the lives of the people in this city," Easter said.
In fairly quick succession, Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan moved to give the ordinance's most recent version a first reading -- the primary step toward adopting it.
"The pro-life attorneys do feel that this does not put the city at risk. I would really not support something that would be irresponsible. To me, it dehumanizes and demoralizes what it really is, it's an unborn baby," Sullivan said at the meeting.
On Friday, she said: "I'm over it. And I want you to make it clear -- please don't make it sound like I'm harboring 'Could have, should have.' Now, I am respecting the decision of the council."
Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson -- like Sullivan, a member of the council's Legislative and Litigation Committee, which has considered the issue since May -- spoke next.
Johnson moved that the council adopt the committee's recommendation to table the ordinance indefinitely and approve the resolution.
"The ordinance was not ready for prime time," Johnson said Friday. "... at the end of the day, the resolution was the appropriate way to act. I think resolutions are basically a policy statement by the council, and I think there's nothing wrong with the council saying we value the voice the pro-life community brings to Bakersfield."
Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera was third to act Wednesday night, with a motion to table the ordinance and "drop or not approve the resolution" until a majority of the council brought it back.
"My point was that it was not within the power of the Bakersfield City Council to try and attempt to accomplish what the Human Life ordinance wanted. I think everyone acknowledges that it's a woman's right to choose," Rivera said Friday. "I implore Jacquie Sullivan and anyone else, if it really is such an important issue for them, that they take it to the proper forum."
This is something Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, the committee chairman said last month.
"If you think this is an expensive conversation to have, think about having this conversation in front of a judge," Maxwell said at the committee's Sept. 23 meeting.
"The resolution did little or nothing. I voted to send the resolution to the full council. I did not view that that I was endorsing the resolution at all," Maxwell said in an interview Friday.
He agreed with Johnson on the ordinance, saying, "It was not something as a city council that we could pass. It would open us up to too much litigation."
Others thought both measures were out of line.
"I believe that the resolution that is passed is irrelevant, so I would not support that, and because the law of the land is set by the Supreme Court, I do not support the motion ... that Jacquie's proposing," Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson said Wednesday.
Vice Mayor Ken Weir said at the meeting that he agreed with Rivera's motion, clarifying it to make a "majority of the council" mean at least four members.
"Issues come to us. And when they come to us, how do you decide which ones are given to you, that you just don't accept?" Weir asked the audience. "It is unfortunate that this came in this venue, because I think there are people here in the audience tonight that think there are winners and losers."