By C. Jayden Smith
Sensing a moment of opportunity for San Clemente to influence California policy after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June reversal of Roe v. Wade, City Councilmember Steve Knoblock suggested the city take a stance on abortion.
In the aftermath of his motion to have the council discuss affirming a position in a resolution, which Mayor Gene James supported, what first started as concerned citizens sharing the development sparked into a social media firestorm of opposition to the very nature of the idea.
“San Clemente” was a trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday, after the Los Angeles Times reported the resolution to the nation.
Due to the widespread reaction to the resolution, the San Clemente City Council has already called for special meeting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, to consider whether to remove the discussion of the resolution from the regular Aug. 16 meeting agenda.
Citing the desire to express that “all human life, beginning from life inside the womb,” in the city should be protected from “acts of cruelty,” Knoblock modified a resolution that he found online that would declare San Clemente as a “Sanctuary for Life.”
Knoblock said in an interview with the San Clemente Times that since the June 24 decision gave authority back to the states, he believes the city government and council should discuss issuing a position as a way to factor into public policy. Knoblock added that such conversations were normal for the council to address.
“We weigh in on public policy issues all the time,” he said “It’s just when people don’t like the particular policy, then all of a sudden, it’s not appropriate to weigh in on that. We do that all the time on all sorts of issues; oftentimes they’re not nearly as important as life and death issues like this one.”
Through separate interviews with San Clemente Times, both Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan and Councilmember Laura Ferguson expressed that the events of recent weeks have distracted the council from the everyday issues each member was elected to address.
“I’d like to see us get back to improving our residents’ lives, helping local businesses, making sure that the city is running efficiently, and the finances are being handled responsibly, and that our citizens can enjoy the beaches and parks,” Duncan said. “I think we should be focusing on that and not getting involved in issues on abortion.”
Ferguson said that whether the content of a resolution is enforceable, councilmembers with the support of at least one colleague can set any agenda item they’d like to discuss. She added that as a staunch supporter of the First Amendment right to speak freely, she valued Knoblock’s efforts to discuss an issue about which he was passionate.
As she and Knoblock attended the Friday morning Coffee Chat on Aug. 5, a forum for citizens to speak publicly and interact amongst each other, Ferguson was proud of Knoblock for speaking at the meeting and answering questions.
However, even if the resolution were to pass, it wouldn’t affect the legality of abortion in the state of California or the local zoning laws that allow for abortion and pregnancy clinics, she pointed out.
“(The resolution) doesn’t supersede what’s currently on the books and codified into state law,” Ferguson said. “And a city, by all means, could try to change the local zoning laws, but they’ll be challenged in court and probably not be able to withstand that.”
She added that she didn’t believe the council had the authority to make decisions on such an issue.
James seconded the motion during the July 19 meeting to discuss the resolution, however, as the mayor told the Los Angeles Times, upon reading Knoblock’s draft, he was “appalled” and “embarrassed.” He even contacted the city manager, city clerk and city attorney to see if he could withdraw his second.
James told the Los Angeles Times he initially thought the proposed resolution would just be to support the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade, but what he later read in the draft of the resolution “could have been written by a Taliban tribunal.”
This is the second controversial “sanctuary city” resolution brought forth to the city council in just over a year. In June 2021, the city council declared San Clemente as a “Second Amendment Freedom City.” The resolution, initially proposed by James, passed by a 3-2 margin to provide a symbolic reinforcement of the constitutional right to bear arms.
Speaking to the broader issue of reproductive freedom, Duncan said he believes women should have the right to choose, “full stop.”
“Government shouldn’t be involved in that choice, and any attempt to limit those freedoms, by a local government, in particular, is government overreach,” he said.
Duncan, who recently attended a “Protect Our Planned Parenthood” fundraising event at Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar, said he supports Planned Parenthood and is endorsed by the organization, as he seeks the 74th Assembly District seat.
He detailed that Planned Parenthood is a “critical part” of the American healthcare system that provides to not just women, and that the reproductive services are a small percentage of what all the organization provides. Duncan also said he had some concerns about language within the draft resolution that called out Planned Parenthood.
Nichole Ramirez and Andrea Schmidt, the senior vice president of communication and donor relations and the public affairs project manager for Planned Parenthood Orange and San Bernadino Counties, respectively, spoke with the SC Times Friday morning.
Schmidt said their reaction was the same as others around the community in that they were shocked the council would consider addressing a matter beyond its purview and appalled by the resolution’s language.
She added that if the resolution passed, it would send a message to San Clemente residents that their local elected officials do not support their “fundamental rights to control their own body and access quality health care,” in addition to the Supreme Court’s stance.
“I would just want to add that we know that thousands of community members in San Clemente and around that area rely on Planned Parenthood for heath care services and education,” said Ramirez, as a Planned Parenthood clinic is in Mission Viejo. “So, we know (the resolution) doesn’t accurately reflect their views.”
Ramirez said the organization’s facilities provide an “exceptional experience” with fast wait times and service, and high-quality care from which no person is turned away.
“(People) don’t realize the variety and depth of what we provide, including primary health care services, online behavioral health; we also have WICS services—women, infants, and children,” she said. “Planned Parenthood is really a safety net provider for many, many people.”
For example, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Ramirez recounted an influx of patients who needed abortion care but couldn’t access it in their own state. PPOSBC’s efforts to educate people that their clinics still provided abortion services and to expand the services themselves were “critically important,” she said.
They hope that the council won’t pass the “politically motivated” resolution that is not designed to protect any person’s health or life, according to Schmidt, especially given the outpouring of opposition shared by residents with PPOSBC and the council itself.
“With, hopefully, this resolution being struck down, that will also signal to other city councils that this is not the will of the people and that something pushed through by an extreme politician with their own personal views should not be sent through at all,” Schmidt said.
Knoblock said the feedback he has received through emails include viewpoints that both support and oppose the resolution.
“The ones that are ‘Con’ are, generally, very vitriolic and caustic,” he said. “The ‘Pro,’ supporting (the) resolution, are generally polite and calm.”
Duncan said the vast majority of what he has seen in emails and on social media are in opposition, which he believes reflects the views of the surrounding community and the country overall.
He cited how the effort in Kansas to deny the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution was “soundly defeated,” and that it showed the will of the people that believe women should have the right to choose their health care decisions and that government should not be involved.
As of press time, San Clemente Mayor Gene James and Councilmember Kathy Ward could not be reached for comment by the San Clemente Times.
There will be a special council meeting at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, to consider whether to remove the discussion of the resolution from the regular Aug. 16 meeting agenda.
Additionally, Duncan has partnered with the Community Action Fund of PPOSBC to host a rally for women’s rights and reproductive healthcare access that will occur at the San Clemente Pier Wednesday, Aug. 10, at 11 a.m. Visit bit.ly/OCRoeRally to learn more.