Riverton becomes a ‘sanctuary city for the unborn’ with City Council passage of anti-abortion resolution

Tawnee McCay, Riverton City Councilwoman

During an emotional meeting, The Riverton City Council voted Tuesday in favor of a resolution declaring its support for unborn humans, belief that life begins “at the moment of conception” and opposition to lessening existing restrictions on abortion.

Councilwoman Tawnee McCay, who sponsored the resolution establishing the community as a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” held back tears as she made the motion to approve it. And members of the crowd erupted in cheers after its passage.

The resolution declares that “every baby is welcome in Riverton,” McCay said at the meeting. “Some have asked why we should do this at a city level. Some people say a resolution has no teeth — it’s not a state law or city ordinance. I say that we each need to stand up for our values. We need to speak up for the repressed or those that are never given the chance to have a voice.”

Public comment on the resolution at some points focused on the morality of the abortion procedure and at other times questioned the council’s role to weigh in on an issue that has mostly been under the purview of state and federal governments.

Jeanette Colbert, a Riverton resident who spoke against the resolution, urged the council to “stay in your lanes.”

“I am really upset because it makes anybody who says, ‘I don’t think that this is a city issue for abortion,’ it makes it sound like we don’t care about life,” she said. “Of course we care about life. Of course we care about babies. Of course we have morals and family values. But I also want to do what’s right for the law. Our government decided this is legal.”

Another woman said the resolution created a “hostile living environment in the city” for women who need a procedure she argued is not only legal “but truly none of this city council’s business.”

But there were about twice as many supporters for the proposal — including Diane Fischer, a resident who said the resolution gave a “voice to the voiceless and a voice for the defenseless,” and Carol Manning, who argued the council had a “constitutional obligation to protect the lives” of its unborn.

“I feel that these babies, with their heartbeats, are citizens for you to protect,” agreed Amy Jo Young, a Lehi resident who traveled to Salt Lake County to express her support. “I feel that this is an issue that you can say has to do with your council and I feel that as you are done with your time in office, that you can look back and you can either say, ‘Wow we put in a lot of stoplights and parks’ or you can say, ‘Wow, we helped to save eight babies a day, 3,000 babies a year in Utah.”

The Resolution in Support of Human Life, which begins with a nod to the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” declared in the United States Declaration of Independence, seeks to honor the rights of health care providers “to decline to participate in abortions due to moral objections,” opposes regulations or laws that would violate those rights, and encourages the state and federal government to protect human lives, including those of the unborn.

The language offers support for women who terminated a pregnancy that endangered the mother’s health and signals the council’s support for organizations that assure health coverage for pregnant women and newborns; increase awareness and education around abstinence, natural family planning and access to affordable contraception; and encourage support for those who make an informed decision to place a baby for adoption.

McCay said she modeled the resolution off a similar one the Roswell City Council in New Mexico passed in March.

Though some residents questioned whether its passage would lead to “frivolous” lawsuits, council members reiterated after the vote that this was a non-binding resolution that did not change city ordinance or law but instead looked to take a stand on an increasingly divisive issue.

“This resolution does not circumvent, it does not change, it does not even attempt to make change in those current laws that are held not only in the state but nationally, federally,” said Councilman Brent Johnson. “This is simply a resolution that states a concern.”

The resolution comes at a time when abortion rights have become a flashpoint both in conservative Utah and across the nation. The Trump administration moved recently to strengthen the rights of health care workers to refuse to provide care that violates their religious or moral beliefs, and Utah lawmakers passed two bills largely along partisan lines this session that restrict abortion access — both of which are on hold subject to court rulings.

Following its passage, it’s possible other councils in Utah will take up the issue, as well.

“Riverton City could be a leader in declaring in no uncertain terms that human life is important,” McCay said. “Even unborn babies have value. We can step up and lead other cities. As more cities join us in this resolution, we will send a clear message to the state of Utah. They can have enough courage in protecting human life.”