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February 26, 2019 - 8:54am

Eye of the storm: Batavia City Council at center of abortion debate

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Pro-life advocates are mobilizing across the nation as many states enact laws expanding abortion rights, even to the point of fetal viability.

And their numbers are increasing, according to a new Marist poll that revealed that more Americans are identifying themselves as pro-life – with the split at 47 percent for pro-life and 47 for pro-choice compared to 38 percent pro-life and 55 percent pro-choice just a few weeks earlier.

The debate intensified in the City of Batavia over the past month following the state government’s passage of the New York Reproductive Health Act.

Numerous Batavia residents and several from out of Genesee County and even from as far as Arizona spoke out on the issue as City Council debated whether to send a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in opposition of the RHA. In the end, the board decided not to do so (see story below).

The overwhelming majority of speakers, many identifying themselves as pro-life and “followers of Jesus Christ,” urged Council to stand up for the unborn, to obey the Word of God and to send the letter.

Others contended that city officials weren’t elected to weigh in on national and state issues, especially in light that the RHA has already been put into law.

On Monday night, 17 people – a few of them for the second or third time -- addressed City Council during the public comments portion of the Conference meeting.

Following are excerpts of their speeches:

Erica O’Donnell, Batavia – A self-described political activist, she said the most effective way (to get change) is to “coordinate our actions” – getting 20-50 like-minded people to write letters, make phone calls, conduct rallies and demonstrations.

As for Council’s involvement, she said it shouldn’t be.

“This is the third meeting where the topic is taking up the time of City Council. If you send a letter, it opens up a can of worms. Let’s put this issue to bed tonight … stick to city business.”

Jim Russell, Batavia – Stating that abortion is a moral issue, he called out New York, a state that doesn’t allow capital punishment for convicted criminals, for “saying that it’s OK to have capital punishment (against) babies.”

“I believe the majority of people in this community believe in eternal life, will (someday) meet their creator and have to answer for their life.”

Ann Marie Scalia, Batavia – She implored Council to “speak for the babies who have no voice inside the womb … babies (that) are very much alive … and 100 percent they feel pain (when an abortion is performed).”

She talked about other choices – counseling and adoption – and called for Batavia to be the first sanctuary city for the unborn.

She also railed against Albany, saying the state wants to protect un-vetted illegal immigrants and that Cuomo “has done nothing for us but tax us to death.”

Raelene Christian, Batavia – Calling the RHA “disgusting,” she said that once a woman becomes pregnant, it no longer is just her body anymore – “it’s two bodies, hers and her baby’s.”

She spoke about states that have passed a “heartbeat” law to put restrictions on when an abortion can be performed and said that “pro-lifers have been ignited like never before and their voices are being heard.”

Finally, she said the question was simple. “Do not take a stand for pro-life or pro-choice, but do stand for the unborn.”

Beth Cerminara, Lancaster – Contending that Roe v. Wade is “unconstitutional and antiquated,” she said the RHA was passed “under the guise of health care but is neither health nor care … Batavia can be the first to stand against a tyrannical state governor.”

Showing photos of fetuses at 10 weeks and one week, she said they are “beautifully and wonderfully woven together by the hand of God. This is 100-percent human …. Valuable and made in the image of God.”

Then she urged Council to “repent before the Lord who can save you from your sins … no more excuses; stop murder in Batavia.”

Susan Sherman, Batavia – The director of All Babies Cherished on Ellicott Street said her staff supports 300 clients annually with maternal needs, mentoring and other services. “We’re here to help women and girls who are dealing with unwanted pregnancy by offering “life choices.”

She also said that it’s a law that “you can’t touch a feral cat but we can kill an infant through nine months of pregnancy.”

In closing, she asked “how do we deal with these women who go through these procedures? Some had abortions 40 years ago and they’re still hurting (emotionally).”

Mona Doyon, Batavia – An employee at All Babies Cherished, she credited a teacher at Notre Dame High School for her pro-life stance, which gave her the courage to “choose life” when she became pregnant.

“God is calling each of you to take a stance … a chance to make a real difference,” she said to Council.

“When you say the Our Father (prayer before Council meeting), you can’t just say those words. It’s 'His kingdom come' not ours.”

John Speed, Syracuse – “I believe that you guys have the courage to do the right thing … make Batavia a sanctuary city for the unborn,” he said.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and we need to fear God more than we fear men, more than we fear Cuomo, some guy on Facebook or Planned Parenthood. Fear the One who you will stand before in judgment. “

He then quoted Bible passages from Proverbs 28:1 and Rev. 21:8, concluding that “I believe you can stand against this evil.”

His son, Charlie, then spoke briefly, stating “your parents chose life or you wouldn’t be here” and then quoted Romans 3:15 – “Their feet are swift to shed blood.”

Sarah Cleveland, Ohio – As someone who works in emergency room and medical situations, she said that “people across the country are watching what you are doing and praying for you.”

She said she is a foster care parent and abolitionist against abortion.

 “This is our duty as Christians – to rescue those who need saving … I never hear the words ‘emergency abortion.’ You can take a baby out without murdering the baby. There is no reason to ever murder a baby to end a pregnancy.”

Marcus Pittman, Mesa, Ariz. – Saying he is a documentary filmmaker, he called upon Council to “stop the madness” and noted that in “Arizona, Washington, D.C., and in Oklahoma people are rising up.”

He asked why people this issue is even being debated because “you guys know that a baby in the womb is a baby.”

He said he was against sending the letter – not because he was pro-choice, but that it would result in being ripped up by Cuomo.

Alex Feig, Medina – Prefacing his remarks with the Biblical view that “we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” he spoke of the “compassion, hope and help” provided by All Babies Cherished in Batavia and Care Net Center of Orleans County.

“We need to present young mothers with all of the options available (including life options),” he said.

He then said that while U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer takes a pro-choice stance for our nation, the New York representative also aligns himself with the Israeli pro-life, anti-immigration group EFRAT.

EFRAT’s mission, according to its website, is to empower women to make an informed choice about the future of their pregnancy by providing them with personal counseling, prenatal medical consultation and postnatal family support.

Judy Piscitello, Batavia – She said that Batavia has an “advantage” over other communities in becoming a sanctuary city for the unborn because United Memorial Medical Center is “a safe haven for babies and does not do surgical abortions.”

She shared several points about what a sanctuary city of this nature would mean, including:

-- All preborn babies could realize their full citizenship.
-- No doctors (etc.) could perform surgical abortions in Batavia from this day forward.
-- No minor should be taken out of the county for an abortion.
-- Law enforcement would not be compelled to cooperate (with state or federal laws re: abortion).
-- The entire city would get together for education of all ages and work with All Babies Cherished and with adoption agencies.

Chris and Brittany Connelly, Batavia – They said that Council had the “authority to do this” under the Constitution and New York Bill of Rights.

“Being a sanctuary city, the personhood would be returned to that child,” Brittany said. “There are no consequences for our actions any more … the world is going down. We support you in writing this letter … it’s a start.”

She then thanked Rose Mary Christian, the only Council member who voted to move the resolution forward to the next Business meeting, and called her “a true feminist” – sparking a loud round of applause from the crowd.

Kathy Stefani, Batavia – Addressing each Council member by first name, she said she contacted all of them by phone a few weeks ago and said that seven members “shared with me that you’re strong pro-life believers and agreed that this law is abhorrent.”

She then quoted II Timothy 1:7 (God has not given you a spirit of fear … but a spirit of power, love and a sound mind), and added that “this mighty God of the universe is a loving God … is for you, and if God is for you, which he is, who could be against you?”

Diana Kastenbaum, Batavia – Stating that she was born and raised in this city, she said that she “felt as if I am not welcome here (because) my views are different than those people.”

“I am Jewish and I am a religious person but yet I don’t feel this is Council’s place to have this theological discussion,” she said. “I think I’m a very moral person. I don’t think I am an immoral person because I am pro-choice.”

She said “we voted for you to vote on local issues” and that the laws (Roe v. Wade, RHA) are the laws and “we are all expected to uphold it.” She said she thinks that the separation of church and state was being “intermingled” here and it is “our moral imperative to keep the two separate.”

In closing, she said “I don’t think you want this to be a constant gallery to national issues …. Do your job as City of Batavia Council members and do not write this letter.”

Photo at top -- Chris and Brittany Connnelly of Batavia speak out against abortion during Monday night's City Council meeting. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Ray Richardson
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Would someone explain "sanctuary city for the unborn". How would it work and what do you hope to accomplish? Outside of a name I can't see it making a difference, any more than sending a letter to Albany would.

John Roach
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Ray, the "Letter" said nothing about a sanctuary city. That was something that speakers brought up. And you're right, it really means nothing. A sanctuary is a place you go to in order to be protected from something. However, if a woman does not want an abortion, she can just stay where she is. Nobody is forcing her to have one. If she does want one, she has to leave Genesee County. Neither Planned Parenthood or the hospital ( UMMC) do abortions. So, what sanctuary would anyone get from the City of Batavia? No matter what side of the issue you are on, the term "Sanctuary", really means nothing

Daniel Norstrand
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Kastenbaum castigating the idea of religious beliefs as the root of the disagreement and how this co-mingles church and state while she espouses her religious virtues is hypocritical and self serving to the max. Just because the religious beliefs of many of the anti abortion group seeking the voice of council to stop the legally sactioned killing is the basis for their thinking, doesn't make it a religious endeavor. No matter how much they express their beliefs. The fact is killing is illegal unless justified. The disparity of opinion should be centered upon "when does life begin." As a very wise letter to the editor of another publication pointed out "you can't deny a beating heart." That begins at about 21 days after conception.
She's doing what wanna be politicians do. Get to the podium.

david spaulding
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Rose Mary once again shows how mentally unstable she is. Quite possible she needs to be put on the Red Flag waiting list. She exhibits anger and outrage while enticing others to join in her madness. I'd feel so much safer if the Governor sent his posse to Mary and Mary's relatives residences and work places to confiscate any and all firearms and any thing that may look like a firearm. Eugene, you don't see it ? See something, say something ? no?

Leslie Crittenden
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Joined: Apr 16 2013 - 10:54pm

To those of you who attended the City Council meeting in an effort to persuade the Council to send the letter: Your attempt to make it appear that the majority of the area's residents agree with your pro-life belief was dishonest at best, as shown by the Council's vote, overwhelmingly in favor of choosing not to send the letter. You are Christians, and your beliefs require you to oppose abortion. I respect that. I am not Christian, and I do not oppose abortion in most circumstances. Please respect me in return. Shaming other's beliefs, as you tried to do, never results in changes in behavior.
If you truly care about babies, step up and become foster parents, or adopt one of the thousands and thousands of babies who are born drug-addicted, with birth defects, or other problems that make them unlikely to be adopted. That is hard work, much harder than vilifying people who have views different to yours. Most of all, please find a way to express your beliefs in positive action, instead of negative words. You have a much better chance of reaching people's hearts and minds that way.

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