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February 12, 2019 - 6:00am

Eighteen speak out as City Council ponders whether to send letter opposing abortion legislation

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, batavia, Reproductive Health Act, notify.
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Writing 15,000 letters and sending them to Albany -- instead of one from a local legislative body such as the Batavia City Council -- would be the most effective way for pro-life advocates to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators know exactly how they feel about the recently passed New York’s Reproductive Health Act.

That is the opinion shared by Council President Eugene Jankowski following Monday night’s emotional 90-minute public comment portion of the board’s Business Meeting at City Hall.

About 150 people, many of them connected to the Right to Life movement, packed Council chambers, with about half of them having to stand while 18 speakers took their turns at the podium.

Fourteen of them spoke in favor of City Council drafting a letter in opposition of the RHA – with some calling for Batavia to designate the community as a “sanctuary city for the unborn” -- and forwarding it to Gov. Cuomo.

The passing of the law last month, which includes provisions that permit abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or the health of the mother is at risk, became a hot topic in the city after Batavian Chris Connelly, a self-described “man made in the image of God,” spoke out against it at the Jan. 28 Council meeting.

His strong comments prompted City Council to consider having City Manager Martin Moore draft a letter in opposition of the law and placing it on a future meeting’s agenda. News of that decision compelled many residents on both sides to write or call their council representative, and ultimately led Jankowski to seek more public input before deciding how to proceed.

And, if he was looking for more feedback, he surely wasn’t disappointed as the speakers shared a range of viewpoints in an effort to persuade the nine council members.

Lifelong Batavian Kathy Stefani, a Right to Life organizer, said that abortion has become legal “right up to the moment of birth in this country” but that it’s a federal crime to destroy an egg of a bald eagle.

Noting that the word “fetus” is Latin for “little one,” Stefani said “we are here tonight for the little ones.”

“It’s okay to give a lethal injection to a living infant but definitely not to a hardened convicted criminal,” she said. “We’re not asking for a raid on the state capital or a march down Main Street, just a letter stating right from wrong. Write a letter and make Batavia a sanctuary city …”

Jon Speed, a church pastor from Syracuse, was more graphic in his address, asking “Which is the best way to kill a baby -- a pill, saline solution, surgically in the second trimester or scissors into the neck in the third trimester. There is no good way to kill a baby.”

He spoke out against Planned Parenthood – leading to a bit of shouting in opposition to that – and urged Council to make Batavia a sanctuary city of the unborn.

“We are called to love our neighbors … born and unborn … If not, and then appointed for the slaughter, the blood will be on your hands.”

Connelly took another turn at the microphone and ramped up his comments.

“God said before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” Connelly said. “(By taking) these positions, the blood runs in our streets. What about the children who are butchered, who are sold as commodities?”

Calling abortion “disgusting, reprehensible and unthinkable,” Connelly said that “even debating this is a signal that we need repentance before a holy and just God.”

Another speaker, Dan Devlin of Buffalo, president of an organization known as New York Oath Keepers, said he sees abortion as a constitutional issue and quoted the preamble to the Constitution of the United States to support his view.

There are two groups, not one, that this nation was established for,” he said. “We the People … to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. Who is your posterity … It is all of our descendants until the end of time. The succeeding generations, and the unborn descendants in the womb are clearly our posterity.”

And Alex Feig of Medina asked Council to follow its own vision statement, reading several points from the city’s website, including “our children, at all ages, will have choices to grow, learn, live, play and work in our community,” and “our city will serve as a model for other small cities in its approach to an overall positive quality of life for all its community members.”

He called for Council to not only write a letter in opposition to the RHA but also to pass an “emergency ordinance” to prohibit abortion in the city.

On the other side of the debate, Nikki Calhoun of Le Roy spoke of the centuries of those seeking to control women, causing them to suffer at the hands of government and their husbands, and preventing them from voting and seeking higher education.

She defended the local Planned Parenthood’s various services, including counseling for those with little or no insurance.

“Where are these girls supposed to turn to when they need to talk?” she said.

She added that she respected everyone’s opinion and held a belief in a higher being, but also respects women who can decide for themselves.

“We’re not someone’s property,” she said. “I implore you to mind the business of the city and not our bodies.”

Erica O’Donnell of Batavia said she approached the city in August of 2017 about taking a stand about Confederate flags being flown in the city after a neo-Nazi rally turned into a deadly tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., but was told that Council refrained from issues other than city business.

“With this (RHA) bill, three branches of state government passed it,” she said. “The city decided against (taking a stand) then, and I hope that going forward you take the same approach.”

Amber Hainey of Mount Morris said a woman’s right to choose has been a law since 1973 (Roe v. Wade) and “we’re done having this conversation. Women have a right to their bodies and their reproductive health.”

Her comments were echoed by Batavian Rachel Curtin, who stated that her reproductive rights are her own, and for Council “to focus on city matters.”

At the end of the public comments – after Oakfield resident Brian Thompson’s call for Council to take advantage of the opportunity to make a “historic” decision for life and for more people to adopt children and after Batavian Frank Klimjack encouraged everyone “to write that letter, send that email and make that phone call” – it was the council members’ turn to respond.

Council Member Rose Mary Christian said she disagreed with those who said it wasn’t part of Council’s duties and said that she was in favor of sending a letter to Gov. Cuomo.

“This is a state issue because he decided to bring this forth and we do have a right,” Christian said, noting that she received 35 emails – 30 of them from people in favor of sending the letter.

She went on to say that abortion, especially in the third trimester, is “barbaric and murder.”

“With (building) a wall, they call it immoral. What the hell? Don’t they call it immoral to kill a baby?”

Council Member Robert Bialkowski said he doubted if a letter from City Council would have any impact in Albany.

“We have a governor now … writing laws … and they don’t care about this part of the world,” he said, condemning laws that promote gambling, legalization of marijuana and pay raises for prisoners.

“The majority of the people elected him … and in Erie County he’s very strong there. I encourage people next time you go to vote, think of it.”

Jankowski said personally he has “no qualms about sending this letter, but it’s not about me.”

“We represent all people in the City of Batavia and I owe my obligation to help people on both sides of this argument … as City Council we can’t fairly represent one side or another.”

He then said he would like Council to “back out of this as a body” and suggested everyone to contact their state representatives.

“I’m going to do my own (letter). I think 15,000 would raise my eyes more than one letter representing 15,000. Fifteen thousand letters dumped on his doorstep … he’d have to take note of that.”

Undeterred, Christian asked City Attorney George Van Nest about the legality of sending a letter.

Van Nest said it cases such as this, a consensus of the board would determine what action to take.

“I’d like to do it,” she said. “Would anyone else like to do it with me so we can send a letter as a body?”

Council Member John Canale weighed in, stating that he was torn over what to do after getting more feedback from constituents over this issue than any other in his eight years of service.

“I consider myself a Christian and try to live my life under Christian values, but my problem is this … I was elected by not just Republicans and not just Christians,” he said. “I now have to make a decision … I say to all of you, put yourselves in my seat; I’m very undecided.”

Canale requested that the issue be tabled to allow time for “soul-searching and to talk to our families.”

Bialkowski suggested the drafting of a resolution to be brought to the next Conference meeting on Feb. 25 and Council Member Kathleen Briggs tried to call for a vote, but that didn’t fly. In the end, Jankowski said if a council member wanted to draft a letter, it would go to the Conference meeting and they would vote on it.

“I’ll do it,” Christian said.

And, judging by her supporters’ passionate appeals, she’ll probably have many people offering to help her write it.

Sam DiSalvo
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Last seen: 8 hours 34 min ago
Joined: Jan 24 2019 - 8:30am

I'm glad to see that this article more fully explains at least part of the RHA. Also, I think it should be stated that people last night who supported Planned Parenthood do not support killing babies; they simply support women's freedom, and that is often forgotten. This debate has been morphed into a black and white scenario, but it is so much more complicated than that. It was unfortunate last night to see so many people view it as black and white and not see the grey of the situation.

Erica O'Donnell's statement shouldn't be taken lightly when City Council decides this. If their stance when the Confederate Flag issue was raised was that CC refrains from positions regarding non-city issues, then they should continue that. Jumping back and forth depending on whether CC holds an issue closer personally isn't how government should be run.

Also, many of the comments at last night's meeting in favor of writing the letter were backed by religious reasoning and pleas. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;". Separation of Church and State, while not explicitly in the constitution, has long been upheld through the Establishment Clause, prohibiting government from respecting one religion over another. To make a law because of religiously based arguments would mean that people must abide under laws based on that one religion, which may not be the religion or beliefs they follow, which would show the government favoring one religion over another. Separation of Church and State is part of our country for a reason. People need reminding that their religious beliefs are not what determines laws in the U.S.

Rich Richmond
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Last seen: 5 hours 30 min ago
Joined: Mar 29 2011 - 4:50pm

One hundred fifty people, approximate, appear to be right. Nice video. It was three-to-one Pro-Life in the majority.

Daniel Norstrand
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Last seen: 1 hour 34 min ago
Joined: Jul 18 2016 - 10:27am

Sounds like excuses sam. Political doublespeak. Your Democratically elected. That means majority rule. Sure looks like a vast majority of YOUR voters are directly asking you to help let their needs to be known. Your elected to do the right thing and the fact that many of the majority expressed religious beliefs as the root of their needs is not for you to ponder. Their expressed needs are.
Also I have to wonder what the attitude of those "pro choice" advocates would be if the laws they created were truly fair. If a woman can decide to terminate, it only seems fair that the man involved have the same choice. Unless the woman had no choice in the procreation of another human being. Maybe the pro-life movement could at least gain leverage with lawsuits to that end.

Sam DiSalvo
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Last seen: 8 hours 34 min ago
Joined: Jan 24 2019 - 8:30am

Daniel -
Firstly: you're*. Twice.

Second, everyone's religious needs are met by being allowed to practice whatever religion they want. Using anyone's religious beliefs as basis for law is not a principle that the U.S. was founded on. Nobody is devaluing their needs, but simply stating that religious beliefs are not a basis for laws or letters supporting/opposing a law.

Third, most polling across the U.S. shows that anywhere from 45%-70% of voters support Roe v. Wade and abortion (most polling hovers around 55%-60% support). I understand Batavia is a microcosm, but are you then suggesting that Batavia should be exempt because we might happen to have a crowd that came to CC in greater numbers than the crowd on the opposite side of the issue? Or that despite a general support or at least a 50/50 split on this issue, that religious beliefs of one group should overpower that general nationwide support? The following is just one article:

Why should anyone's religious beliefs take precedence over a woman's right? Why should a woman's right take precedence over anyone's religious beliefs? I don't think a non-debatable, clear answer exists based in logic that isn't "a woman should choose what to do with her own body" or "because God said it's wrong."

Fourth, Your proposed situation would be intriguing to watch in the courts. I'm unsure how it would be decided by courts.

Howard B. Owens
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Last seen: 1 hour 49 min ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm

Rich, thanks. It was a lot of work. Nice to hear.

I want to add, here's why I hope people watch the video: Regardless of your position on the issue; and setting aside the thought, 'Gee, wish people would turn out like this when we're discussing the city budget,' I personally couldn't help but feel a little proud of our country and our community as I watched my final cut of video.
In an era where it seems like everybody rips each other apart on social media, last night in our Council chambers, 18 people got up and spoke passionately, but respectifully, in a manner that was articulate and thoughtful, raising many good points on both sides.

We can be thankful and proud that we live in a country where this is possible.

Margaret Cook
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Last seen: 1 day 10 hours ago
Joined: Jan 29 2019 - 9:40am

Speakers from Syracuse, Buffalo, Medina, Leroy, Mt. Morris and Oakfield? "Batavia City Council". Hmmmm seems to me that Batavia City residents are the ones that the Council should entertain as to what business they should be conducting, not residents of other towns/cities. Let them speak to their own representatives. Makes me wonder how many of those emails Rosemary claims to have received are actually from Batavia residents. As for me: I am a resident of Ward 1, City of Batavia, and I charge my representative, Paul Viele, to vote "no" to this letter. I would also encourage others to read the actual bill. We are talking about a risk to the mother's health or life as well as if the fetus is NOT viable.

John Roach
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Last seen: 10 hours 26 min ago
Joined: May 29 2008 - 5:22am

Margaret, most of the speakers were from the City of Batavia. The man who brought this up is a citizen of the City of Batavia. And clearly this is not the first time people from outside the City have spoken to Council on issues they think are important. One example was the Feral cat issue.

Mary Kay Barton
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Last seen: 2 hours 30 min ago
Joined: Jan 13 2013 - 8:54pm

Sam DiSalvo, I totally agree - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF" - exactly what these good folks are doing by working to protect our very first and foremost right - given to us "by our Creator" - "THE RIGHT TO LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..."
Contrary to your misinformed assertions, nobody is "respecting one religion over another"! They are working to respect EVERY LIFE! And that has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with LIFE, and honoring our Creator God, Who creates every life.
And by the way Sam, whether you like it or not, our laws are based on the Ten Commandments. That's why they are carved into our Supreme Court building. Furthermore, if you study history you will see that the Bible was the main textbook in our schools in the beginning, and our Founding Fathers were largely believers in Jesus Christ. That's just a fact. If there is no sense of Truth and morality, no right and wrong, then we will have anarchy - an anything goes society. But we are pretty much there now - just as the Bible warns it will be in the last days.
Saint Mother Teresa got it right when she said, "The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between."

Mary Kay Barton
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Last seen: 2 hours 30 min ago
Joined: Jan 13 2013 - 8:54pm

New York’s new abortion law is more barbaric than China’s. Here’s how: https://www.liveaction.org/news/new-york-abortion-barbaric-china/

Tim Miller
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Last seen: 55 min 40 sec ago
Joined: Jun 20 2010 - 9:51am

"our laws are based on the Ten Commandments"?

Time for a sidebar.

I looked up the Wikipedia "Ten Commandments" entry...

Last I checked, I (and every other American) can have ANY god, not just yours, so there goes the whole "thou shalt have no other gods before me" without getting arrested.

I can draw, carve, shellac, ice sculpt, etc. any god-figure I choose without getting arrested, so there goes the whole "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image".

I can say the really nasty variants of "gosh darn it" all I want (except on The Batavian because I respect Howard and Billie's "no cursing" rule), so there goes the whole "Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain". (Alternate theory that taking a lord's name in vain is that it is declaring "my god wants this"... listen to any evangelical lately - especially the joker who recently said "(my) god wanted Trump to be president"? Yeah - they're not going to jail because of that)

I can do pretty much anything I want on Sunday (or Saturday for some sects, and Thursday for fans of Thor) without breaking "our laws", so there goes the whole "remember the sabbath day and keep it holy"

I could (if I chose and if they were still alive) dishonor, ignore, curse, etc. my parents without breaking any of "our laws", so there goes the whole "honor they mother and father"

Many societies, with many different religious beliefs hold murder as illegal. The blind squirrel might have found a nut there.

Ditto for stealing. Two nuts in your favor.

We can debate a third nut in that poor blind squirrel's basket about "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"... I mean, under oath or speaking to a police officer, lying might very well be a crime. However, as people can lie about many things without breaking the law (I'm 6'2", 180lb, and folks have confused me with George Clooney!), that half nut is being very generous.

Now - the covet thingies - "Thou shalt not covet neighbor's house", "Thou shalt not covet neighbor's wife", "Thou shalt not covet (neighbor's slaves, animals, etc"? I can desire, covet, lust after, want, etc. all those things all I want, without breaking any laws. Not.A.Single.Law...as long as I don't break in, or steal, or grab my neighbor's wife by the p***y, that is.

I will fight for your right to follow whichever mythology you choose (I will have issues if it entails sexual assault of children, or the repression of one or more groups of people such as women, other races, etc). As an American, I expect my neighbors to help me fight for you. Of course, as an American I also expect you to not try to enforce your mythology's tenets on me if I choose a different belief system. So that line about "our laws are based on the Ten Commandments"? As much as you may wish to (or actually) believe it, facts counter that belief tremendously.

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