After two hours of public comments, the board of Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to take on a resolution that would make the county a “pro-life sanctuary.”
Residents, pastors, and staff from local pregnancy resource centers lined up to share their views, a majority of them were in favor of the resolution and dismayed at Board Chairman Don Salter, who blocked the resolution from being placed on Monday’s agenda, because it was “too controversial and above the county’s purview,” he told Pensacola News Journal. Salter was the lone “no” vote.
The resolution was written by Milton resident James Calkins, who is running against Salter for District 3 commissioner, and fellow Milton resident Sam Mullins. The one-page document includes declarations that life begins at conception. It also calls for the county to “arrange for the placement of a suitable commemorative plaque on the grounds of the county government declaring Santa Rosa County to be a ‘Sanctuary for Pre-born Children.’”
The resolution comes on the heels of state abortion laws. Last week, the Florida Senate passed a parental consent abortion bill that requires minors to receive consent from a parent or guardian before having an abortion. In October, state representative Mike Hill filed a heartbeat bill, which bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, without any medical exceptions.
At the meeting, Salter expressed he felt the resolution was “politically motivated” making mention that the wives of Mullins and Calkins work with Hill.
Both Salter and District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard expressed concerns with the resolution. Salter, who called himself a pro-life Republican, said he thinks a woman who is a victim of rape or incest should decide if she wants to keep the baby. Lynchard, who said his views on abortion are guided by faith, expressed concerns about the language.
“I don’t want to condemn that 15-year-old who was raped and impregnated and chooses to have an abortion...that’s a statement the board shouldn’t make,” he said. Salter echoed the same sentiments.
A majority of public comments were urging Salter to bring the resolution to a vote. Some spoke on principle and faith, some spoke from personal experiences.
“My son and his wife were pregnant with their fourth child (who) was diagnosed with hygroma and Edwards’ syndrome,” shared Cynthia Roberts, of Pace Life Options Clinic. Immediately, their doctor began to talk about early termination...but God is the author of life and death. My granddaughter turned two years old without issue. It wasn’t an improper diagnosis — God healed her in the womb.”
At Pace Life Options, Roberts said staff offers women a “sanctuary of hope and help.”
Mullins said he believes the resolution does not violate anyone’s rights and likened it to “Second Amendment sanctuary” that was passed in December affirming the county’s stance on gun rights. He said the timing of the resolution was right with a “pro-life president.”
Jim Eastman, board chairman of Pregnancy Resource Center in Navarre, compared the commissioners to “squirrels in the trees trying to blend in to the woodwork” by not taking up the resolution.
“Y’all need to stand up for life,” he said. “We have to stand up. We have to be the white squirrel.”
Navarre resident Joannie Parks asked why this resolution was needed when other issues such as funding for Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, traffic, and opiod drug abuse were more pressing matters.
“It’s not the job of our elected commissioners to promote personal, social, women’s issues,” she said. “The BOCC does not speak for me. No one speaks for me but me.”
District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole introduced the resolution to be placed on Monday’s agenda made the motion to have the resolution added to Thursday’s agenda after county attorney Roy Andrews made some changes to the language. If it passes, it could be Florida’s first pro-life sanctuary.