SAN DIEGO (CNS) — The San Diego City Council passed a resolution Tuesday declaring San Diego a "safe city for reproductive freedom and access to abortion," a move supporters believe makes it the first city in the nation to do so.
Councilman Stephen Whitburn authored the resolution -- which passed 8- 0 -- with Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe and Councilwomen Jennifer Campbell and Marni von Wilpert.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision soon overturning 1973's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that established a legal right to abortion nationwide until the fetus is viable, typically between 22 and 24 weeks. If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, the issue of legal access to abortion would be left to the individual states.
"No matter what happens with the Supreme Court ruling, no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter the color of your skin or your socioeconomic status, I want everyone to know that you are welcome in the city of San Diego to exercise your reproductive rights," Whitburn said. "I want all San Diegans who are scared and frustrated about this potential ruling to know that you have members of this city council and a mayor that have your back, and we will not back down."
Anti-abortion groups were disappointed by the move.
"We are saddened by the city's action today," said Aida Bustos, spokeswoman for the San Diego Catholic diocese. "We strongly believe there should be legal protections for the unborn and are bitterly disappointed that the city will not even entertain a conversation on the issue. Women, families and the unborn deserve better."
While abortions will likely continue to be legal in California should the Supreme Court hand down its expected ruling, the resolution's supporters said San Diego has a duty as the second-largest city in the state and one of the 10 largest cities in the country to show that it is a "safe city where every citizen and visitor will have reproductive freedom and access to abortion."
"Access to abortion care is an imperative service along the reproductive health spectrum, and loss of this access can significantly impact the quality of life for so many women -- especially women of color," Montgomery Steppe said. "As a champion for equity in our city, I stand with my colleagues in declaring San Diego as a safe space that reclaims dignity and re- establishes the right of autonomy and choice over our bodies."
"Roe v. Wade protects people's liberties to have the right to an abortion," Campbell said. "The landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allows people the right to an abortion without government interference. As a woman, and as a family physician, I value people's rights and I value people's right to choose."
Von Wilpert said the council committed to "fight for quality, safe, reproductive health care and family planning services for anyone who needs it," and added that San Diego "will not stand for an assault on women's rights."
Also Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 in favor calling on California to add the right to choose to California's constitution, while also ordering a comprehensive assessment of reproductive health care services offered by the county.
Board members voted after a roughly hour-long public hearing, during which most speakers were opposed. Bishop Art Hodges of the South Bay Pentecostal Church, said his constituents believe life begins at conception and quoted several Biblical passages.
"Abortion is murder, killing children in what should be their safest space," Hodges said. "Don't vote to aid and abet murder."
Vernita Gutierrez of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of the Pacific Southwest countered that abortion "is health care, and health care is a human right."
She added that it's important that county government "stand as a champion and model for reproductive freedom."
Several speakers called out Supervisor Nathan Fletcher for asking for a moment of silence for the children killed Tuesday in a Texas school shooting, but supporting abortion rights.
Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas introduced the proposal supporting an update to the state constitution to codify the right to choose.
"It is time for California to enshrine the right to choose in our state constitution," Lawson-Remer said. "We cannot stand by as people across our nation are stripped of our rights, and the progress so many have fought for is erased. We can build a firewall in the California state constitution and be a beacon of safe and legal abortion access."
Before voting on Tuesday, Vargas said she remembered fighting for resources and access 25 years ago, "and here we are now, where women may not have access to legal abortion in the United States."
Vargas, board vice chairwoman, added that were it not for reproductive freedom, women wouldn't be in elected office or leading corporations.
Lawson-Remer noted that if the Supreme Court overturns the right to choose on abortion, contraception and marriage equality may be next.
Desmond, who voted no, said the county should support unwed pregnant mothers, and he had no problem with reviewing barriers to health care. However, Desmond said couldn't support a second recommendation that mentioned abortion itself, especially if it possibly involved a late-term procedure.
Desmond added that even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, nothing will change in San Diego County in terms of access.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, released a statement on May 2 saying they would propose "an amendment to enshrine the right to choose in our state constitution so that there is no doubt as to the right to abortion in this state."
"We know we can't trust the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights, so California will build a firewall around this right in our state constitution," the statement said. "Women will remain protected here."
On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution 11-0 calling for legislation to codify the right to safe abortions in California and throughout the United States. Once signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, it would formalize the city's support for any proposed legislation that would codify the right to safe abortion into law and urge the state and federal governments to take immediate action to pass the legislation.