Morro Bay passes abortion rights resolution — but councilman argues it was ‘to score points’

·5 min read

The Morro Bay City Council passed a resolution at its Tuesday meeting affirming its “support of reproductive freedom” and protecting the rights to family planning and abortion — but the resolution didn’t pass without some controversy.

Councilmember Dawn Addis — a progressive Democrat who’s currently running for state assembly — brought the item forward with support for its consideration from fellow council members John Headding, Laurel Barton and Jen Ford.

“Reproductive care is an urgent need for people in Morro Bay, and across the Central Coast,” Addis told The Tribune in a statement Wednesday. “The onslaught of attacks on reproductive care threaten our entire community. Even in a state that has historic protections, it’s up to us to make sure access is never rolled back.”

The resolution passed with a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, with Councilmember Jeff Heller submitting the only “no” vote.

Heller said the resolution was designed to score political points.

“I think it is completely inappropriate for this council to be addressing global issues,” Heller said. “We have no abortion clinic, no hospital and no knowledge of anyone not getting the health care that they need. I don’t understand why we would do the resolution like this.”

Jeff Heller, a Morro Bay City Councilmember, opposed a resolution affirming its “support of reproductive freedom,” saying that it’s inappropriate for the city to be spending time on issues of national and global concern that it doesn’t have authority over.
Jeff Heller, a Morro Bay City Councilmember, opposed a resolution affirming its “support of reproductive freedom,” saying that it’s inappropriate for the city to be spending time on issues of national and global concern that it doesn’t have authority over.

Heller added: “We have no authority over the laws that are passed in Texas or other states. This is somebody running for office trying to score points.”

In her statement Wednesday, Addis said the city received extensive community support for pursuing a resolution and “thousands have expressed their concern when they attend rallies in support of reproductive rights.”

“Statements that diminish the importance of reproductive care, or minimize the attacks on reproductive care access, are surprisingly out of touch with the community as a whole,” Addis said.

Morro Bay resolution spurred by Texas abortion law

The resolution doesn’t directly impact any laws or abortion rights in the city, and the council didn’t discuss any efforts to advocate nationally on the issue.

But the resolution was proposed as a way to support Roe v. Wade and a “commitment to protecting the rights of all women,” a staff report said.

Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Texas case that was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, set a legal precedent affirming the constitutional right across the nation for a woman to choose an abortion without excessive government restriction.

An abortion rights rally was held in 2019 in SLO.
An abortion rights rally was held in 2019 in SLO.

Of late, abortion rights have come under legal threat elsewhere in the nation, Addis said.

Morro Bay’s resolution was requested in response to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “signing and the subsequent enactment into law of Texas Senate Bill 8, which bans almost all abortions in Texas, and delegates enforcement responsibility to citizens,” a staff report said.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Senate Bill 8 on Dec. 8, while allowing some challenges to continue.

Councilman questions why city should ‘wade into’ abortion rights issue

Beside his overall disapproval of the council’s choice to pursue the resolution, Heller additionally said at the meeting that the topic shouldn’t have been placed on the consent agenda, which is typically for non-controversial issues that don’t require discussion.

“In these divisive times, should the City Council focus on statements that bring us together rather than tear us apart?” he asked. “Spending time on issues that are outside of the council’s authority uses resources that could be better spent to further the city’s mission to provide municipal services.”

During discussion, Heller said his late sister held anti-abortion beliefs, but that he did not.

“Even though I am not pro-life, this is very controversial and I don’t know why the city’s wading into this,” he said.

“That’s your opinion,” Mayor Headding commented.

“That’s my opinion,” Heller agreed.

SLO County community members weigh in

The council received several letters from the community on both sides of the debate in its agenda correspondence.

More than 20 pages of agenda correspondence were posted; not everyone who submitted identified their community residence.

“I welcome your considering and approving a resolution that protects the constitutional rights and affirms a commitment of Morro Bay to be a welcoming, inclusive and safe community for everyone,” Women’s March SLO co-founder Andrea Chmelik wrote. “I hope other Central Coast cities will follow your lead.”

Rochelle Reed Smith, of San Luis Obispo, also wrote in support for the resolution.

“I am old enough to remember the time before the passage of Roe v. Wade and the dangerous measures women were compelled to take,” she said. “Don’t allow that to happen again.”

Smith later told The Tribune: “God forbid we return to the days of unsanitary south-of-the-border or dangerous home abortions. Girls were frequently forced to withdraw from school and live in punishing group homes, their babies taken away at birth.”

Opponents also weighed in.

“As caring, active people of Morro Bay we are very strongly in favor of the protection of human life,” wrote city residents Menno and Alice Isaac. Only God has the authority to bring an end to the precious life he has given. We ask you to please vote ‘no.’ ”

Keith Gaffney, who identified himself as a Morro Bay businessman, also asked the council to vote “no” on the resolution.

“As someone who has been faced with decisions, I know that it will come down to ‘What’s popular?’ or ‘What’s right?” Gaffney wrote. “I plead with you to make the right choice and vote ‘no’ on (the resolution). All life matters!”

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