Push to ban abortions in San Clemente gets even in conservative OC. headwind

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

The city on the coast of Orange County has no hospitals or clinics that perform abortions, and has no power to stop residents from seeking the procedure elsewhere. There are other issues that need attention, Verraster says, such as homelessness and affordable housing.

Still, a debate over abortion has consumed and spotlighted the city after Councilman Steve Knoblock proposed it be made a “sanctuary for life,” making it an abortion-free zone after the US Supreme Court ruled Roe vs. wade.

Knoblock’s proposal, which is largely symbolic, has upset residents across the political spectrum, including some of his conservative colleagues and abortion rights advocates like Verraster.

On Saturday, the council will consider whether the proposal should be removed from the August 16 meeting agenda.

“It’s so far off the mark that it seems so ridiculous that they would bring up something so divisive,” 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 city, with its Spanish architecture and famed surf culture, is a laid-back beach town.

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

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

Thursday a busy summer day on the beach south of San Clemente pier.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

But Knoblock’s proposal, a draft of which was made public last week, was a bridge too far — even for some abortion opponents. It states that life begins at conception and opposes the establishment of clinics offering abortions.

Councilors have been inundated with emails from residents baffled by the document’s religious leanings and angry that their government is weighing on what many see as a personal health concern. Some residents plan to hold a meeting near San Clemente pier next week to voice their concerns.

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Whatever happens in San Clemente, the right to abortion in heavily Democratic California will continue to be protected by state officials.

“This is really a chest pounding exercise,” says Fran Sdao, 69, a resident of Mission Viejo. “We live in California. This means nothing in California. This is 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 the city.

Knoblock said he wants to send a message to the rest of California that “we think life is important, and we think 60 million unborn babies killed in the womb is a sad thing and should not be continued.”

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

In 2008, he suggested that the council vote in support of Proposition 8, a nationwide ballot measure that would have banned same-sex marriage. He received insufficient support from his colleagues.

That same year, Knoblock successfully advocated putting the phrase “In God We Trust” on the city’s logo.

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

Of the likely voters in the state, 76% said they didn’t want Roe vs. Wade was destroyed, according to a poll this year by the unbiased Public Policy Institute of California. In Orange County, support lagged slightly, with 69% of likely voters opposed to overthrowing the nearly 50-year-old constitutional precedent.

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A Planned Parenthood clinic in Mission Viejo — the closest to San Clemente — had more than 22,000 medical visits last year. It’s unclear how many of those visits were abortions, though the organization said the procedure is a fraction of the services it provides.

“This resolution is an example of an extreme politician sitting on the council who is basically trying to push a personal agenda that doesn’t align with the views of their 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, who are Republican in the majority, described his proposal as exaggerated.

Councilor Kathy Ward called the proposal “ridiculous” and said in an email to The Times that she “will not take up cases that are not city issues.”

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

Anti-abortion Mayor Gene James said he was initially in favor of a council resolution expressing his support for the Supreme Court’s decision to rule Roe v. Wade to undo. But he said he was “appalled” and “embarrassed” after reading the details Knoblock had drafted.

Ward, Ferguson and James are all Republicans.

“The fact that he’s delved into medical issues, where none of us are qualified to judge, is disturbing,” James said. “California is a state where abortion is legal, and the San Clemente City Council can’t do anything about that, whether we’re pro-life or pro-choice.”

Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan, a Democrat running for the state assembly, said Knoblock’s efforts to ban abortion are “extremely and completely contrary to our community’s basic values.”

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

The resolution states that it is intended “not only to protect life, but also to honor God who gives life”. It continues that “we believe that life is ordained by God and that God is the author and finisher of all life.”

“I read it and thought, ‘What’s going on here?'” said Lyon, 46, an abortion rights advocate. “It’s not even filled with an argument that it should be a state issue. It was all about God and preserving life. Why [Knoblock] thinking this is something the people of San Clemente want is very baffling to 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 indicates about the future of her city.

Residents and tourists walk along Avenida Del Mar on Thursday.

Residents and tourists walk along Avenida Del Mar on Thursday.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

San Clemente’s registered voters are approximately 44% Republican, 28% Democratic, and 21% No Party.

The city’s support for conservative candidates and causes dates back decades.

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon took refuge after Watergate at his beachfront mansion in San Clemente, known as the “Western White House.”

In 2020, San Clemente was the setting for a public mask burning on the pier led by Alan Hostetter, a resident later charged with criminal charges for his alleged role in the January 6 uprising. Knoblock and Hostetter shared the podium at a 2020 Donald Trump rally in the city.

American flags and banners celebrate the US Marine Corps pepper houses in San Clemente, about 20 miles north of Camp Pendleton.

Today, lawn signs for liberal candidates, as well as gay and transgender pride flags, appear more regularly in the city.

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