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Abortion ‘sanctuary’ is too far for some in San Clemente

Linda Verraster can’t imagine why San Clemente elected officials would spend time debating abortion.

The coastal city of Orange County has no hospitals or clinics that perform abortions, nor does it have the authority to prevent residents from seeking the procedure elsewhere. There are other issues that need attention, Verraster says, such as homelessness and affordable housing.

Yet an abortion debate has consumed the city and thrust it into the spotlight, after Councilman Steve Knoblock proposed it become a ‘sanctuary for life’, which would make it an abortion-free zone. after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. .Wade.

Knoblock’s proposal, which is largely symbolic, has upset people from all political backgrounds, including some of his fellow conservatives as well as abortion-rights supporters like Verraster.

On Saturday, the board will consider whether to remove the proposal from its August 16 meeting agenda.

“It’s so out of their way that it seems so ridiculous that they would raise something so controversial,” said Verraster, 68, a registered nurse and Democrat who has lived in San Clemente for nearly three decades.

The vibe of Orange County’s southernmost town, with its Spanish-style architecture and famous surf culture, is that of a laid-back beach town.

San Clemente also has an enduring reputation as a conservative stronghold, although much of Orange County has become more politically diverse.

Last year, the San Clemente council declared it a “Second Amendment Freedom City.”

A busy summer day at the beach south of San Clemente Pier on Thursday.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

But Knoblock’s proposal, a draft of which was made public last week, went too far, even for some abortion opponents. He asserts that life begins at conception and opposes the establishment of clinics that perform abortions.

Council members have been inundated with emails from residents bewildered by the document’s religious leanings and furious that their government is weighing down what many see as a personal health issue. Some residents plan to hold a rally next week near the San Clemente Pier to voice their concerns.

Whatever happens in San Clemente, abortion rights in strongly Democratic California will continue to be protected by state authorities.

“It’s really a chest-pounding exercise,” said 69-year-old Mission Viejo resident Fran Sdao. “We live in California. That means nothing in California. It’s just a waste of paper. »

In an interview with The Times, Knoblock said zoning and permits could be possible tools to keep abortion clinics out of town.

Knoblock said he wanted to send a message to the rest of California: “We believe life matters, and we believe that 60 million unborn babies who were killed in the womb is a sad thing and shouldn’t be not continue”.

Knoblock has a history of proposals that many consider outside the purview of local government.

In 2008, he suggested that the council declare support for Proposition 8, a statewide ballot measure that would have banned same-sex marriage. He failed to get enough buy-in from his colleagues.

That same year, Knoblock successfully advocated for the phrase “In God We Trust” to be placed on the city logo.

Knoblock’s stance on abortion is at odds with the majority of Californians — and Orange County residents — who support access to the procedure.

Among likely voters in the state, 76% said they did not want Roe v. Wade overruled, according to a poll conducted this year by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Support lagged slightly in Orange County, with 69% of likely voters opposed overturning the nearly 50-year-old constitutional precedent.

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Mission Viejo — the closest to San Clemente — received more than 22,000 doctor visits last year. It is unclear how many of those visits were for abortions, although the organization said the procedure represents only a fraction of the services it provides.

“This resolution is an example of an extreme politician sitting on the board and essentially trying to push a personal agenda that doesn’t reflect the views of his constituents,” said Robert Armenta, senior vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties. .

Knoblock’s colleagues on the San Clemente City Council, which is majority Republican, called his proposal overkill.

Councilwoman Kathy Ward called the proposal “ridiculous”, saying in an email to The Times that it “does not address issues that are not city issues”.

Councilor Laura Ferguson said she believes in a woman’s right to choose, with some limitations, and thinks council should focus on more pressing issues, such as homelessness and pension obligations.

Mayor Gene James, who opposes abortion, said he was initially in favor of a council resolution expressing support for the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But he said he was “appalled” and “embarrassed” after reading the details written by Knoblock.

Ward, Ferguson and James are all Republicans.

“The fact that he looked into questions of medicine, which none of us are qualified to comment on, is troubling,” James said. “California is a state where abortion is legal, and the San Clemente City Council can’t do anything about it, whether we’re pro-life or pro-choice.”

Pro Tem Mayor Chris Duncan, a Democrat running for state assembly, said Knoblock’s efforts to ban abortion are “extreme and completely out of step with the core values ​​of our community.”

Cheri Lyon, who has lived in San Clemente for 15 years, said she was horrified that Knoblock’s resolution blurs the line between church and state.

The resolution states that its intention is “not only to protect life, but also to honor God, who gives life.” He continues that “we believe that life is ordained by God and that God is the author and finisher of every life”.

“I read it and I was like, ‘What’s going on here? “Said Lyon, 46, who promotes abortion rights. “It’s not even filled with an argument that this should be a matter of the state. It was about God and preserving life. Why [Knoblock] think this is something the citizens of San Clemente want baffles me.

Lyon said she is grateful to live in a state whose government has affirmed the right to abortion, but is concerned about what Knoblock’s resolution signals about her city’s future.

Abortion ‘sanctuary’ is too far for some in San Clemente

Residents and tourists walk along Avenida Del Mar on Thursday.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Registered voters in San Clemente are roughly 44% Republican, 28% Democrat and 21% non-party.

The city’s support for Conservative candidates and causes goes back decades.

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon sought sanctuary after Watergate at his seaside mansion in San Clemente, known as the “Western White House.”

In 2020, San Clemente was the scene of a public mask burning on the pier led by Alan Hostetter, a resident later criminally charged for his alleged role in the January 6 insurrection. Knoblock and Hostetter shared the stage at a Donald Trump rally in the city in 2020.

American flags and banners celebrating the United States Marine Corps pepper houses in San Clemente, which is about 20 miles north of Camp Pendleton.

These days, lawn signs for Liberal candidates, as well as gay and transgender pride flags, are also popping up around the city with more regularity.

Los Angeles Times

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