Five days after its founding, members of a new pro-abortion rights Facebook group said they plan to speak against the proposed Human Life ordinance at Wednesday's Bakersfield City Council meeting.
"The war on women has come to Bakersfield -- and we refuse to let our home be one that violates the Constitutional liberties of half the population," Pro-Choice Kern County said in a news release Monday targeting the ordinance, which would have restricted abortion in Bakersfield, and its creator, Tim Palmquist, administrator of LifeSavers Ministries.
"It feels like there's a lot of focus on what the women do with their bodies. Whereas, there's way less focus on what men do with their bodies," said Jennifer Smith, who founded the group with a friend on July 10.. "... it's beginning to feel like a war."
She estimated that about 40 Pro-Choice members might attend Wednesday's meeting.
In its release, the group -- which has received more than 200 "Likes" on Facebook -- called the ordinance "vague" and "... a regulation authored by a pastor who is not even a Bakersfield resident." Palmquist disagreed.
"People who know us often joke that we have a house in Tehachapi, but most of the time we're down in Bakersfield," Palmquist said, giving a reporter a voting address in downtown Bakersfield. "That is our primary residence, for legal purposes, for all practical purposes."
He cautioned that because Pro-Choice Kern County is a Facebook group, whose members admittedly have not yet met face-to-face, "They could live near Chicago."
"This is not about a man telling a woman what to do with her body, this is about recognizing the biological fact that a human being exists inside a woman when she is pregnant," Palmquist said. "The word 'abortion' doesn't appear in the Human Life ordinance. The word 'pregnancy' doesn't appear in the Human Life ordinance. It doesn't need to, because this is just black-and-white, common-sense truth."
The proposed ordinance was considered May 20 by the City Council's Legislative and Litigation Committee. It would have placed "Restrictions on Termination of Human Life," according to its title, making it "unlawful within the city ... 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 enforcement, it would have permitted 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.
The committee voted 3-0 to table discussion of the ordinance indefinitely, and directed City Attorney Ginny Gennaro's office to draft a similar, but less-binding resolution, after Gennaro warned that if the ordinance became law, the city would be vulnerable to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits from abortion providers whose livelihoods would be threatened.
"I think it would be more in the millions than the hundreds of thousands," said committee Chairman Terry Maxwell, who is Ward 2 councilman. "If we as individuals are against abortion ... then that's certainly our personal right. As far as city business, we have a little more broad-based responsibility."
Committee member Jacquie Sullivan agreed.
"They'd love if there were a way for the city to make a stand on this. Our concern is, we are not going to make a stand on this regardless of how strong we feel," said Sullivan, who represents Ward 6 and opposes abortion rights. "As an elected official, I certainly would not do anything that would put the city at risk, as far as a lawsuit that we would have to defend."
Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera said Monday that he recently was contacted by a member of Pro-Choice Kern County who was interested in learning the status of the ordinance.
"I do not think it was the right move in the best interests of the city to do that," Rivera said of considering the Human Life ordinance. "What hurts me the most is that we're devoting so much time and energy to this when the City Council's focus could be -- I'm trying to get people jobs. I'm trying to figure out how we as a city can serve our residents more effectively."
The board of directors of Right to Life of Kern County, an anti-abortion rights group, issued a statement Monday saying it is "unable to endorse the Human Life ordinance," and calling it "unduly punitive" and "unable to withstand "Constitutional scrutiny."
"We don't want to shirk from the fights that need fighting," said Marylee Shrider, executive director of Right to Life. "We see that this would needlessly expose the city to litigation."
Members of two pro-abortion rights groups applauded the emergence of Pro-Choice Kern County.
"We're talking about some of these related issues that have occurred in Texas and other states around the country," said Pedro Elias, a regional director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, referencing the Texas Senate's approval Friday of what has been called one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country.
"To see this happening in Bakersfield, that people are getting together to make their voices heard, I see as very encouraging. We're really glad that there's someone that's standing up for women and families in Bakersfield," Elias said. Others concurred.
"I found out about them on Facebook ... because I do work in pro-choice advocacy, trying to offer any support I can to these great folks on the ground," said Bakersfield native Sarah Audelo, who is director of domestic policy at Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C., group that helps young people make educated "decisions about their reproductive and sexual health."
"I think it's incredibly exciting that this group has formed. Growing up in Bakersfield, there were not a lot of outlets to share my own pro-choice views," Audelo said. "I think Kern County is becoming more progressive overall."