A draft city ordinance that would have restricted abortion in Bakersfield was placed on hold Monday when the Bakersfield City Council's Legislative and Litigation Committee voted 3-0 to table its discussion indefinitely, and instead, ordered the drafting of a resolution that could be less restrictive.
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."
While the ordinance did not provide for city enforcement, it would have allowed anyone "aggrieved" by such an abortion to file a civil lawsuit and potentially recover damages including $10,000 "per violation from the "... person, business, organization or government agency" providing the abortion.
During a slideshow at City Hall North, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro warned the committee that passing the ordinance would open the city up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits from abortion providers whose livelihoods would be threatened should the ordinance pass.
"Change in the law is more appropriate at the state or the federal level," Gennaro told committee members and a standing room-only audience of nearly 30 local residents and members of anti-abortion groups.
"Even assuming that others have the right to sue -- and I don't think necessarily that is allowable in this case -- that does not insulate the city from liability."
City Council members Terry Maxwell, Jacquie Sullivan and Russell Johnson, who comprise the committee, and audience members, disagreed passionately.
"I do not think this city needs to go any further with the murder of unborn children," said Christy Horne of Bakersfield. "Liability can be covered by taxes, and this town does very well."
Others acknowledged the danger of exposing the city to potential liability.
"Obviously, our intent in all this is not to bring down undue litigation," said Pastor Fred Fies of McKee Road Baptist Church. "Our greatest intent is to be able to have Bakersfield, with a strong conservative constituency, make a strong statement at the city level."
Committee Chairman Maxwell lamented that moving forward with an ordinance was not the best option.
"This is an emotional subject. My input on this is, I am against abortion 100 percent," Maxwell said. "But we also have to balance this off of what are we opening the city up to?"
Contacted after the meeting, a representative of Planned Parenthood declined to comment, not having had an opportunity to review the ordinance.
After the committee voted unanimously 3-0 to table discussion of the ordinance, it voted unanimously in favor of Johnson's motion directing the city attorney to draft a resolution.
"What I said was, 'Look, there's nothing wrong with us as a council stating our policy position that we can see unborns have a right to life in our community,' " Johnson said after the meeting.
Some audience members said a resolution would have no teeth, but Horne pronounced it a good beginning.
"I think a resolution could be a kickstart, and then we could move to an ordinance, and ultimately become a city where abortions are not performed," she said.