San Clemente won’t be moving forward with an abortion ban after one of the two council members who proposed the item yanked his support at an abrupt special meeting on Saturday. 

The resolution introduced by Councilman Steve Knoblock would’ve made the city a “Sanctuary for Life,” and would’ve prevented the permitting or zoning required for any facility that wanted to provide abortions in the city. 

Knoblock was the first councilman to speak at the meeting, and criticized his colleague Mayor Gene James, who initially supported the resolution but backed out, saying Knoblock’s work looked like it was written by a “Taliban tribunal.” 

“We need to value life, I know everyone doesn’t agree with that,” Knoblock said. “The suggestion we have a resolution of this kind is tantamount to a Taliban tribunal really surprised me. The Taliban kills innocent human beings. Abortion kills innocent human beings. So to put them together is interesting.” 

“The city weighs in on public policy issues that affect our community. The life and death of babies affect our community.”

Nearly 50 residents from across Orange County came to speak at the meeting, with the room so full of people they locked the doors to stop anyone else from coming in, setting up an overflow viewing room with more protestors outside. 

People sit inside the council chambers during Saturday’s city council meeting addressing councilman Steve Knoblock’s abortion resolution on Aug. 6 2022. (Omar Sanchez / Voice of OC)

“For over 10 years I’ve come to this podium and said the council should not be acting on issues which they cannot legislate,” said Brad Malamud, a San Clemente resident and attorney who speaks regularly at council meetings. “We didn’t elect you to do that.”  

Ultimately, Knoblock was the only one to defend his resolution, with the rest of the council voting to throw it out in a 3-1 vote. 

The majority of people spoke out against the proposed resolution, wielding signs calling for Knoblock and James to resign and criticizing them for what they said was political theater. 

“This resolution is a complete disgrace. What a total disappointment,” said Courtney, a San Clemente resident who spoke at the meeting. “If you don’t have the dignity to resign, you better believe we’re coming for you and will vote you out when the time comes.” 

Several volunteers from the city’s pregnancy resource center spoke out at the meeting in support of the resolution, joined by over a dozen other pro-life residents. 

“I’m here to defend the life of babies and the rights of babies,” said one speaker who identified herself as a nurse who volunteered at the center to perform ultrasound scans, calling the pro choice crowd members “Sodomites.”

“I’m here to tell you that’s a baby…it has fingers and toes just like you. I am proud of you to stand up for what’s right,” she continued, speaking to Knoblock. “I’m proud of you for standing up for God.” 

Knoblock’s resolution made frequent references to God, prompting concerns from public commenters that it was a violation of the separation of church and state.  

“We believe that life is God-ordained and God is the author and finisher of every life. No matter if at the beginning or at the end,” the resolution states. “As a city council, we will protect and sustain life at every stage. As we ask God to bless America, we first have to honor and respect God.” 

While James seconded the motion for discussion in July, he said he hadn’t read it yet, and called a special meeting for Saturday to cut the item out of the council’s Aug. 16 agenda. 

James apologized for supporting the resolution for discussion at Saturday’s special meeting. 

“I’m pro-life, I won’t apologize for that, I can’t apologize for that,” James said. “There are different shades of pro choice, and there are different shades of pro life. If that document created by Mr. Knoblock is the litmus test for being pro life, I am not pro life.”

Councilwoman Kathy Ward, who stood against the resolution since it was presented in July, continued to argue it was beyond the control of the city. 

“We are locally elected officials. We are supposed to put our energies toward the operations and ordered development of the city of San Clemente,” Ward said. “Anything above that is not our purview.” 

Councilman Chris Duncan criticized the scheduling of the meeting on a Saturday with only 24 hours notice, but said he agreed with the decision to take it off the agenda. 

“I have to say, echoing some of those comments we heard, the surprise scheduling of this meeting, serves to stifle public involvement in this discussion,” Duncan said. “This resolution never should have been approved.” 

James said he put the item on for a special meeting because he wanted to fasttrack getting it off the board. 

“We rushed this because many of you wanted this rushed, to immediately take it off the agenda,” James said. “That was not intended to silence anyone, not to mitigate anyone’s opinion, it was an attempt on my part to put this behind us.”

Councilwoman Laura Ferguson wasn’t at the meeting, posting on her Facebook page that she had previous plans to be out of town with her family that she couldn’t reschedule with only 24 hours notice. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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