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Hillsdale City Council considering ordinance to ban performing abortions within city limits

Hillsdale City Hall hosted the town hall Friday.
Tyler Scott

Hillsdale City Council is considering an ordinance that aims to make performing an abortion illegal within city limits, and would declare the city a "sanctuary city for the unborn."

The text of the ordinance was drafted by Mark Lee Dickson, a pastor from Texas who's in charge of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative. Heather Tritchka-Stuchell, wife of council member Greg Stuchell, said she called Dickson and asked him to come to Hillsdale, and said she has 400 signatures in support of the ordinance.

The ordinance would criminalize an attempt to procure or perform an abortion within city limits, as well as anyone who possesses or distributes abortion-inducing drugs within city limits. It also would make it illegal to "aid or abet" an abortion that occurs within city limits, including providing transportation to or from an abortion provider, providing instructions over the phone or internet, or providing money to someone knowing it would be used for an abortion. 

The public comment portion of the city council meeting this week lasted nearly an hour and forty minutes. More than 30 residents spoke, expressing support for and opposition to abortion rights.
Many residents expressed concerns about the proposed ordinance, even those who said they were opposed to abortion. One of the biggest reasons people stated was the unorthodox way that the ordinance came before the council, and the out-of-town pastor who authored it.

Hillsdale County Republican treasurer, Penny Swan, was among those opposed for that reason. She said she is firmly against abortion rights, but took issue with the content and language of the ordinance.

"It bypassed all the normal channels, it didn't go to any committee, nobody was allowed to do their due diligence, all of a sudden it was just in the council packet Thursday night, there's a lobbyist from Texas in town staying in Councilmember Stuchell's AirBnB," she said. "Transparency is sorely lacking with this ordinance situation." 

Swan also took issue with the way the ordinance's champions garnered support.

"[I heard] people were going around door knocking, and 400 were in favor of this. All this happened before the mayor and most of council had any idea about this ordinance. I know my door wasn't knocked, and I've been talking to people literally all weekend... nobody's door was knocked."

Swan said the 400 signatures should be public record, and the council should vet and audit the signatures. She said she's also skeptical about how many people actually read what they were signing.

Another concern that was raised was that there was no exception for victims of rape and murder to procure abortions. Council member Tony Vear expressed opposition to such exceptions.

"The unfortunate act of incest or rape, which is horrific and bad. And so to justify this atrocious act, you're going to kill the innocent child? What other crime does a parent commit that you kill the kid for? And because of the opposition to what we want to do, we're getting all that blowback," he said.

A third big concern expressed by residents was this language in the ordinance:

"The City Council urges all residents of Hillsdale to regard those who aid or abet elective abortions in Michigan as criminals, consistent with the laws of Michigan, and to report their criminal activities to the relevant prosecuting attorneys for investigation and criminal prosecution." It also encourages said attorneys to prosecute indiviuals who aid and abet abortions, including those who "knowingly donate money to abortion funds and abortion-assistance organizations."

Resident Stephanie Myers spoke during the meeting.

"This ordinance is setting the state to pit citizens against each other, asking them to report the intent of their neighbors. Creating a culture of suspicion and distrust amongst neighbors is the antithesis of what it means to live in Hillsdale," she said.

Others, like Josh Colletta, expressed concern about the role of municipal government, and said this was beyond the scope of its power.

"We are not a theocracy. This is not the job of the city government, it’s the federal government’s job," he said.

Many residents expressed support for the proposed ordinance, many citing their faith as a reason for their opposition to abortion rights.

Tritchka-Stuchell, the resident who reached out to Dickson, spoke during the public comment period as well.

"The thing that is concerning is the Biden administration pushing abortion in all cities in America," she said.

Earlier this year, the Biden-Harris administration put out a statement expressing its commitment to codifying Roe v. Wade, which said, "We are deeply committed to making sure everyone has access to care – including reproductive health care – regardless of income, race, zip code, health insurance status, or immigration status."

Dickson, the Texas pastor, said he's taken this approach with multiple towns in Texas, and the ordinances passed there have withstood lawsuits.

"You might say, 'well, why would she reach out to me?' But I've been involved with all 33 cities that have successfully outlawed abortion within their city limits. There have been lawsuits, but we won, we found victory," he said. 

Council member Greg Stuchell is Tritchka-Stuchell's husband, and said he supported the ordinance.

"What we want to say is not here, not in our town. We are not going to kill our children, we are not going to kill our future." But he was quick to say that the ordinance would have limited impact immediately, saying, "A lot of this stuff doesn't mean anything until Roe v. Wade is overturned."

Tom Thompson, the Hillsdale city attorney, said there are many questions surrounding the legality of the ordinance in the state of Michigan.

"The Texas Legislature took some steps to make it more clear that the local municipality had the authority in the first place to pass an ordinance on that subject. That’s not the case in Michigan. So there are some open questions, quite a few of them, as to whether or not you even have the authority to adopt such an ordinance in the state of Michigan," he said.

Council member Bruce Sharp was critical of the ordinance, and said he supports abortion rights.

"A woman's body, it's her rights, her choice... now we're telling her she doesn't have that right if we pass this," he said. "I want to make sure we make the right decision on this. I don’t want it to be jammed down my throat, I don’t want to be rushed. I’ve had people approach me about this. They’re not happy about it, saying ‘you could turn your neighbor in… a $500 fine!'"

The council voted 8-0 to send the ordinance to the Committee on Governance and Oversight, whose chair, Will Morrisey, was absent. After that, there is the potential for a public hearing.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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