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After a lengthy and at times contentious public hearing, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to declare San Diego County a “champion of reproductive freedom.”

As proposed by Supervisor Nora Vargas, the resolution calls for the county to “serve as a model and commit to defend and fight for reproductive freedom, and welcome all those seeking to fully exercise their reproductive rights and access safe legal abortion.”

According to the resolution, “nearly 600 pieces of legislation attacking access to safe legal abortions and women’s rights were introduced around the nation this year alone, it is clear we must act to protect these hard fought rights.”

Vargas, board Chairman Nathan Fletcher and Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer voted in favor of the resolution.

Supervisor Jim Desmond was opposed, while Joel Anderson was absent due to an illness, according to a spokeswoman. Lawson-Remer called Vargas “a champion on these issues” for her entire life, and said it was important to convey “that we stand together to protect all women’s basic rights.”

For his part, Fletcher said he was thrilled to support to Vargas resolution.

In a statement via email, Desmond said such a resolution was “politically divisive” and “a matter for the courts, not the county Board of Supervisors.”

“We have no authority on abortion,” Desmond said. “I have opposed and will continue to oppose items that are not county business.”

Fletcher — whose wife, state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (D-San Diego), underwent breast cancer surgery over the weekend — participated via teleconference.

The county resolution comes after the Texas state Legislature passed a controversial law that bans abortions after six weeks.

Vargas, a former executive at Planned Parenthood of the Southwest, said access to health care also includes the right to an abortion.

As some audience members began booing, Vargas — the board vice chairwoman who was overseeing Tuesday’s meeting — banged the gavel and reminded opponents that they needed to behave or they would be removed from board chambers. “You have a choice — you can stay or you can go,” she told audience members.

Desmond then told the audience, “Hey, come on — let her finish.”

The board’s vote came after a two-hour-plus public hearing in which only four of 80 speakers were in favor of the resolution. Most cited religious opposition to abortion, while proponents said it was up to a woman to decide when to become a parent.

Instead of promoting the right to abortion, many opponents encouraged the county to support better programs for pregnant women and mothers in need.

Melanie Burkholder, a Republican running for a state Assembly District 76 seat, said such a resolution is not needed in light of more serious social and economic challenges the county faces.

“This is clearly political grandstanding,” said Burkholder, who added that there isn’t any problem with abortion access in San Diego County.

Zack Gilman a pastor at San Diego Reformed Church, urged supervisors to vote down the resolution.

“Children in the womb are the most vulnerable group on the planet, and have been the most despised and slaughtered,” he said. “Would it be right for me to rip your legs from your body, because it’s ‘just a clump of cells?'”

Judith Howell, of the abortion rights group Run Women Run, thanked Vargas for sponsoring the resolution.

“The community is rooting for you and this resolution,” Howell said, adding that abortion bans harm communities that already lack health care.

“Restricting abortion will not stop abortion,” Howell said.

Vernita Gutierrez, a vice president of Planned Parent of the Pacific Southwest, thanked Fletcher, Lawson-Remer and Vargas for advancing the resolution, calling attacks on abortion rights across the county “dangerous.”

To read the entire county resolution, go to www.bosagenda.sandiegocounty.gov.

Updated at 3:35 p.m. September 14, 2021

–City News Service

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