Ending Safe Abortion Access One City at a Time?

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Ending Safe Abortion Access One City at a Time?

Robin Marty

Pro-choice activists have proposed local city council ordinances to regain what anti-choice state laws have taken away. But anti-choice advocates are turning to city ordinances as well, and some are going for an all-out local abortion ban.

As some red states have become more hostile to abortion and birth control access, becoming reproductive rights “deserts” around the country, activists in some cities have proposed local city council ordinances to regain what anti-choice state laws have taken away. City councils have passed truth in advertising rules for deceptive crisis pregnancy centers, buffer zones around clinics that provide abortion or birth control, and a resolution reasserting the right to reproductive health care.

But city councils have also been used to block reproductive health-care access as well. Most recently, anti-choice advocates tried to convince the city of Wichita to rezone the area that includes South Wind Women’s Center, the first abortion clinic to open in the city since Dr. George Tiller’s clinic closed in the wake of his 2009 murder; the request was denied. Had the rezoning occurred, the clinic would not have been able to operate, and a large number of Kansans would have continued to lack safe abortion access in their region.

Meanwhile, a handful of anti-choice activists in the conservative city of Bakersfield, California, recently attempted to pass an extremely localized version of a “Human Life Amendment,” which would have outlawed abortion starting at the moment of conception.

According to the Bakersfield Californian:

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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The so-called Human Life Ordinance would have placed “Restrictions on Termination of Human Life,” according to the title of its text, 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.”

In essence, the ordinance would have banned abortion in the city, and potentially affected birth control access as well, depending on how the language in the ordinance is interpreted. The ordinance was pushed in part by Tim and Terri Palmquist, a husband and wife team who do clinic protests, run their own “pro-life training and ministry,” and rub elbows with anti-choice luminaries like Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey and Joe Scheidler. Despite that support, the city council rejected the idea, citing its unconstitutionality.

The Bakersfield effort is indicative of the double-edge sword that local ordinances can play when it comes to abortion access. With some 87 percent of all counties in the nation lacking an abortion provider, and courts beginning to weigh in on whether it is an undue burden for a state to pass laws that will close the last remaining abortion providers within its borders, city councils can be as tempting a target for anti-choicers as they are for pro-choice advocates.