Local Politics

Saturday, Sep 21 2013 09:00 PM

Large crowd expected as committee takes up anti-abortion resolution

BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

An anti-abortion resolution that could plunge the Bakersfield City Council into the national right-to-life debate comes before a key city committee on Monday.

The committee will consider a resolution to "disfavor" abortion, said City Attorney Ginny Gennaro, who previously has counseled its members to handle the issue with care.

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The Legislative and Litigation Committee of the Bakersfield City Council meets at noon Monday at City Hall council chambers, 1501 Truxtun Ave.

A big crowd is expected and officials have relocated the meeting from Conference Room A, at City Hall North, to the considerably larger City Hall council chambers across the street.

If the council's Legislative and Litigation Committee approves the resolution, it next would have to be approved by a city council majority. Gennaro said, however, that as is common for most resolutions, this one would not be enforced.

The resolution commends groups that "advocate for" and educate the public about "alternatives to abortion," noting that some "individuals who have undergone pregnancy terminating procedures" have "suffered psychologically and emotionally from the procedure."

It emphasizes that the city "respects and honors all viewpoints, religions and creeds," but points out "the city of Bakersfield maintains that there are many positive and feasible alternatives to abortion."

As such, it's substantially different from a stronger ordinance the committee considered in May, placing "Restrictions on Termination of Human Life, " according to its title, and making it "unlawful within the city of Bakersfield for any entity to receive any form of consideration for the purpose of killing any inhabitants of the city."

After Gennaro told committee members that approving it could expose the city to costly litigation, they voted to table that ordinance indefinitely, and ordered the drafting of this resolution.

On one side of the issue are anti-abortion advocates, who have been pressing elected officials for more than a year to consider a more powerful ordinance that would restrict abortion in Bakersfield.

On the other side, mostly likely wearing their habitual pink, are members of Pro-Choice Kern County, a pro-abortion rights group formed in July whose members believe public officials should stay out of their constituents' private lives.

Both sides have pointedly attended city council and committee meetings in recent weeks to make their voices known.

The issue has become such a regular discussion topic during the public comment portion of Bakersfield City Council meetings that Mayor Harvey Hall changed the rules on public comment at the council's Sept. 11 meeting -- limiting speakers to 15 minutes for both sides of an issue. Previously, each side had 15 minutes.

The city attorney has said that her interpretation of the mayor's change to public comment is that it only applies to non-agendized items.

Bakersfield, which already has a three-minute digital clock in council chambers to let public comment speakers watch their individual seconds tick away has installed a second, 15-minute clock to let speakers know how much time remains to discuss an issue. Monday's meeting will be its first public outing.

Because the abortion issue is an agendized topic of discussion at Monday's meeting, each side likely will receive a full 15 minutes for public comments.

Gennaro said she hopes some resolution may be reached.

"At some point, there's a need for closure. We can't keep bringing this back to the committee," Gennaro said. "I think, on both sides of the spectrum, the people are expecting the council to make a decision."

Tim Palmquist, administrator for LifeSavers Ministries, has submitted both proposed resolutions and proposed ordinances restricting abortion in the city.

Palmquist said that while he would have preferred the committee still consider an ordinance -- often considered to be a stronger, more enforceable policy statement -- he is warming to the idea of a resolution.

"As we gave it some more thought and considered the way a resolution could be used the way an ordinance could be used, we saw there could be some practical benefit to a resolution," Palmquist said, challenging fellow conservatives to show some "backbone." "As a conservative, I would say, it just seems obvious, not only in Bakersfield, but really in the political atmosphere of our whole country ... that conservatives generally are cowardly."

Members of Pro-Choice Kern County began alerting its members to Monday's meeting Aug. 22 on its Facebook page, which has received more than 350 "likes" since being founded July 10.

Co-founder Jennifer Smith said Monday's meeting is crucial.

"This is going to be a factor in determining whether they take their revised (resolution) to the full council," Smith said, reiterating the group's viewpoint. "We're still of the opinion that city council has better things to be worrying about. The Bakersfield City Council has no business trying to legislate any portion of someone's life."

The committee chairman said he hopes Monday's meeting is a measured discussion of the topic.

"We have to take the emotion out of it, as city council people," said Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, who chairs the committee, noting that the council has a fiduciary responsibility. "I think what we do is listen to the parts of it that affect the city, and make our decision based on how does this change or affect our city."

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, one of three council representatives who comprise the committee, said she thinks the committee needs to make a stronger statement than a resolution.

"I'm a strong pro-life person, and there are many people in our community that are also very strongly pro-life, so I would like there to be something stronger," Sullivan said. "I don't think this discussion has to be considered a negative thing. I hope it's enlightening."

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