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RIVERTON — Heated debate surrounded a controversial anti-abortion resolution passed Tuesday by the Riverton City Council and met by a long standing ovation by many in attendance.
The resolution, formally titled "Resolution in Support of Human Life," declared the City Council believed life starts at conception, that "human life, including the unborn, must always be valued and protected," and that the council formally opposed reducing existing restrictions on abortion.
The document, which has no legal bearing but simply states the council's stance on abortion, had religious overtones, explaining the council believes "every human life is unique and precious to God and humankind."
Several residents at the meeting Tuesday voiced their opinions on the document, some for and some firmly against.
Franchesca Rose, who lives in Riverton, was first to speak in support of resolution.
"I exist because my birth mother gave me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and I believe everyone deserves that right," she said.
Her comment was received with loud applause from the about 100 people in the room. Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs then had to remind people applause was not allowed.
The resolution passed with "Yes" votes from Councilwoman Tawnee McCay, the resolution's sponsor, as well as Councilman Sheldon Stewart and Councilman Brent Johnson. The only other present councilwoman, Tish Buroker, abstained from voting, while councilwoman Tricia Tingey was absent.
"I didn't want it to just be an anti-abortion, I really wanted it to be about how do we help decrease the number of women that are in the situation that they have an unplanned and maybe unwanted pregnancy," McCay said.
McCay's husband, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, voted for Utah's new abortion law, one of the strictest in the nation, which is currently being challenged in court.
He also showed support of his wife's resolution on Twitter.
Shelly Howrigon, a Riverton resident, spoke against the resolution and said her main objection was it offered rebuke for a personal medical procedure and was about personal agendas and not Riverton city business.
She said the resolution was about a legal procedure Councilwoman McCay found "personally offensive."
"It's truly none of this city council's business," she said. "Ms. McCay's statements in support of women rings hollow to me because she only supports these women as long as their choices do not offend her."
"Medical procedure decisions are a painful and personal situation that the city council has no business commenting on," she said.
She referenced McCay's husband's tweet and said it proved the resolution was a "personal crusade."
Dan McCay responded to the comment later telling KSL he only intended to support his wife.
"I'm a proud husband today," he said. "Not a state legislator — a proud husband."
The public forum brought forth about 30 minutes worth of comments, some negative and some positive, something that didn't surprise him.
"Every time this issue comes up, there are emotions on both sides," he said.
After the resolution was passed, Howrigon told KSL she was disappointed and felt it created a "confrontational and hostile environment" for any woman who gets the procedure and "sends a very strong and unfortunate message."
Mary Taylor, who is president of Pro-Life Utah but is not a Riverton resident, addressed the council to show support for the resolution and said she applauds the council's bravery to speak on it.
Merrilee Boyack, president for Utah's chapter of Family Watch International, who also is not from Riverton, showed her support for the resolution and urged the council to "do the courageous thing today."
Amy Jo Young, a resident of Lehi, traveled from Utah County to support the resolution.
One Riverton family, the Colberts, were vocal detractors of the resolution and had several outbursts throughout the meeting before leaving early.
Mariah Colbert said she thought the resolution was a mistake and disagreed with the language of the document.
"I also believe that human life, while it may be precious and miraculous for God, a woman's right for her life and her choice for her body is protected under our constitution in the United States," she told the council.
She said if the council wants to stop abortions, they should focus on bettering sex education.
"But this is not a city issue, this is a state issue and you guys need to focus on the city," she said.
Her mother, Jeannette Colbert, said she was upset because the resolution makes it sound like detractors who disagree about whether it is a city issue don't care about life.
"Of course I care about life, of course we care about babies, of course we have morals and family values," she told the council. "But I also want to do what's right for the law."
She told the council they had no idea what it was like to be raped and then carry a child for nine months knowing it came from violence. She contended that just because the council's morals and belief in God align with the anti-abortion stance, it doesn't mean it's right for the city.
While the council's stance is anti-abortion, the resolution included it supported women who face the "difficult decision" whether to terminate pregnancies when the mother's health is endangered and when rape or incest is involved.
"You need to stay in your lanes," Jeannette Colbert told the council. She also expressed concern that this resolution would bring on a "frivolous lawsuit."
William Colbert, Mariah Colbert's father and Jeannette Colbert's husband, pointed out that while Riverton is a "predominately Mormon community," not everyone was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He echoed his wife's concern about a "frivolous lawsuit," if the resolution passed.
While some thought the council overstepped its bounds with the resolution, McCay said she disagreed and pointed out the measure only resolves the City Council's views.
"I know that some people say we should be taking care of the parks or the potholes and things like that, and we are, we have great city staff that's doing that," she explained. "And so I definitely think all of those needs are being met, but this just takes it a little bit farther and tries to protect the unborn."
McCay said she read about a similar resolution passed in Roswell, New Mexico, when the New Mexico Legislature was going to ease abortion restrictions.
Similarly, she said she wanted to let Utah know Riverton's stance on abortion.
While no formal survey was conducted, McCay said she asked residents through Facebook and in conversations, and most of the people she talked to supported the idea. She guessed the resolution would reflect what the majority of Riverton residents believe.
She added that she's received a lot of messages via email, text and social media from people saying, "We also want to protect the unborn."
"I think it's good to hear the voice of the cities and of the people so that the state legislature knows how they feel," she said.
She acknowledged that not every single resident supported this anti-abortion belief, but said Riverton is a "very conservative" community.
She hoped the resolution would inspire other Utah cities to follow suit. The measure isn't city ordinance and doesn't change law, but it sends a message, she clarified.
"We can be the example for other cities and other states," she said.
She also hopes Utah will also will become one of the first states to completely ban abortion altogether.
One portion of the resolution states the council supports organizations that ensure women have access to proper health care and family planning, abstinence and contraceptive education.
While Planned Parenthood, an organization known for performing abortions, does offer those educational services and healthcare options to women, McCay said because it also offers abortions, it's not a council-supported organization.
The resolution also encourages the community to not discriminate against single mothers and pregnant teens and encourages pregnant women to seek other options past abortion, such as adoption.
Patti Ault, Riverton resident, said she was thankful the council brought the issue to the forefront.
"To have a voice in this is very important because those babies do not have a voice," she said. "We need to stand for morals and we need to stand for truth — something that seems to be so lacking in our day."