The demonstration at the outset of the event. (All photos: Author)
Oct. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg
On a day of national demonstrations in favor of the right of women to choose abortion, Naples, Fla., was treated to an unusually raucous and contentious rally by pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates.
There were no arrests, although individuals, particularly anti-abortionists, while staying non-violent, became aggressive at times. Demonstrators shouted dueling chants and anti-abortionists attempted to drown out scheduled pro-choice speakers.
The demonstration took place in front of the Collier County courthouse in the county government center at Airport Pulling Rd. and Route 41 and then moved to the sidewalk along Airport Pulling Rd.
At the scheduled start of the demonstration at 10 am, there were about 100 pro-choice demonstrators and 22 anti-abortion demonstrators present. Although the numbers swelled during the next two hours, the ratio of abortion opponents to supporters remained about the same. At its height perhaps a total of 300 to 400 people were in the crowd.
There was no separation between the demonstrators and police made no effort to keep them apart. According to one Collier County sheriff’s deputy, in the public space police were not authorized to keep the competing parties apart or intervene unless a crime was actively committed. Nor was a permit required for the “Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights” rally, so there was no need to enforce a permit’s requirements.
The US House of Representatives today passed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 3755) permitting health care professionals to provide abortions, by a vote of 218 to 211.
The bill, introduced in June by Rep. Judy Chu (D-27-Calif.), effectively codifies the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in legislation by making abortion legal nationally.
All of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted against measure, along with the rest of the Republican caucus.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-28-Texas) was the only Democrat to break ranks and vote against the bill.
“Today, Nancy Pelosi is bringing the most radical pro-abortion legislation ever for a vote,” tweeted Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who has long characterized himself as anti-abortion. “This indefensible bill would remove every protection for the unborn and would allow taxpayer-funded abortions up until birth. I’m proudly standing for life and voting NO.”
As of this writing, neither Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) nor Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) had issued statements explaining their votes.
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) urged passage of the bill in a speech from the House floor.
“This is the first time…that we have a pro-choice Democratic [Majority] with a Democratic president,” she said. “And the timing could not be better, because of the assault that has been made on the constitutional rights of women in our country.”
She stated the Texas law effectively banning abortions “unleashes one of the most disturbing, unprecedented, far-reaching assaults on health care providers and on anyone who helps a woman in any way access an abortion, by creating a vigilante bounty system that will have a chilling effect on the provisions of any health care services. And what’s next? What’s next with these vigilantes and their bounty system?”
On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Florida state Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) introduced House Bill 167 in the Florida House of Representatives to follow Texas’ lead in restricting abortions.
HR 3755 now goes to the US Senate, where passage is uncertain.
The fight over women’s reproductive rights in Florida was joined yesterday, Sept. 22, when state House Bill (HB) 167, a Florida version of the Texas abortion prohibition law, was filed by Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) at 9:14 am.
As the bill’s summary states, it: “Requires physician to conduct test for, & inform woman seeking abortion of, presence of detectable fetal heartbeat; prohibits physician from performing or inducing abortion if fetal heartbeat is detected or if physician fails to conduct test to detect fetal heartbeat; provides exceptions; authorizes private civil cause of action for certain violations; provides for civil remedies & damages.”
Oddly, while the introduction caused an immediate storm of protest from pro-choice activists and Democrats, Barnaby himself was silent about the bill, neither issuing a statement explaining his action nor posting any comment on his social media platforms.
Pro-choice groups around the country were already organizing for a National Day of Action to Mobilize and Defend Reproductive Rights on Saturday, Oct. 2. In Florida, the group Florida Reproductive Freedom is organizing rallies in 13 cities throughout the state.
In Collier County a coalition of groups has called for a major demonstration at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples that Saturday, Oct. 2, at 10 am for two hours. (Full disclosure: The Paradise Progressive is a sponsor.)
The demonstration is intended to get elected officials to commit to reproductive freedom.
Scheduled speakers include Stephanie Fraim, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida; Corrie Vega, a Collier County public school teacher and Rev. Tony Fisher of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples.
Angela Cisneros, co-founder of Collier NOW (National Organization for Women) and a scheduled speaker, stated: “We all desire to live a safe and healthy life, free to pursue our own paths. However, the types of bans passed in Texas and currently being framed here in Florida are in direct opposition to that premise. An abortion ban would be especially detrimental to those of us from communities with few resources that already face barriers to basic healthcare.”
State Senate prospects
The Florida Senate’s president, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10-Citrus and Hernando counties), may introduce similar legislation in that body.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Collier County), the Senate Majority Leader and a possible Senate president in 2022, told Florida Politics after the Supreme Court let stand the Texas law that she is “pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors.”
Passidomo said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota that she does not favor an exact “cut-and-paste” of the Texas law for Florida.
“There are provisions in there that don’t make sense,” she said. “We need to do what’s right for Florida.”
Passidomo stressed, however, that she is an anti-abortion legislator.
Last week Southwest Florida’s congressmen were very vocal in condemning President Joe Biden and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But they fell strangely silent on the issue of women’s choice when the Supreme Court let stand a Texas law effectively outlawing abortion.
Of the area’s three members of Congress, only Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district covers Punta Gorda north to Venice, commented on the issue and did so indirectly.
When the chief executive officer of Whole Women’s Health, which bills itself as “a privately-owned, feminist healthcare management company” based in Austin, Texas, tweeted on Aug. 31 that the clinic would continue providing abortions right up until the moment the law went into effect, Steube responded on Twitter with a Biblical quotation from the prophet Jeremiah (1:5): “What about the child, who is living in the womb that is about to be murdered, is that not a loved one?”
(Editor’s note: Steube’s citation is not at all what the Old Testament passage states. In it the prophet Jeremiah says that God chose him to be a prophet before his birth. As stated in the King James version: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”)
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, has always advertised himself as “A Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man,” so his position on choice is known. There were no key votes on choice-related bills since he took office on Jan. 3 of this year, so he remains unrated by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. As of this writing he had not commented on the Texas law on any platform.
“Many of us are still reeling from the attacks on one of our most basic civil rights—the right to decide if we are going to be a parent,” she stated. “For decades, Republicans and their far-right extremist allies have attacked women and tried everything they can to keep us from being able to control what happens to our lives and bodies.”
She continued: “My America does not impose forced birth on women and then attack them when they struggle to provide for their families. This isn’t about doing anything other than imposing the choice of fundamentalists on women, fundamentalists who don’t care about the consequences to the mother or the child. We are better than this, and now we must rise to the moment.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district goes from eastern Collier County to Hialeah in the east, has been in the House of Representatives since 2003. He has a 3 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund based on 31 votes. He too had not commented on the Texas law as of this writing.
His challenger, Democrat Adam Gentle, however, had a strong reaction.
“I am sick and tired of women’s health being a political, judicial football,” he told The Paradise Progressive. “Healthcare isn’t a sport. We must codify a woman’s right to choose into our federal law. We can and we must.”
So far there have been no publicly-available polls of attitudes toward abortion in Southwest Florida. But according to reporting on the website FiveThirtyEight, the US public largely opposes overturning the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, ensuring a woman’s right to choose.
In the article “Why Texas’s Abortion Law May Go Too Far For Most Americans,” senior writer Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes that “For decades, Americans have broadly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade — despite escalating attempts by anti-abortion advocates to turn public opinion against legal abortion.”
“The heartbeat bill was the thing that made them jump” into the Democratic Party column, according to Georgian resident Jen Jordan. (The law was ruled unconstitutional in 2020 and never took effect.)
The same could occur in Florida and nationally as the assault on women’s choice proceeds. “For better or worse, Americans’ views on when abortion should be legal will probably get a lot clearer,” writes Thomson-DeVeaux.
It will also be harder and harder for Southwest Florida representatives to maintain their silence.
New democracy index
FiveThirtyEight has also produced a new metric measuring the degree to which representatives and senators support democracy based on their congressional votes. Users can look up the actions of any member of Congress.
The article by Laura Bronner looks at two 2021 measures of commitment to democracy: a “bare bones” metric based on six votes “limited to basic requirements like free and, in theory, fair elections and other measures that help safeguard democracy.” A more expansive metric is based on 18 votes and “everything in the first category, but also includes bills that expand civil liberties and who has political power.” This is not based on party affiliation or support for Biden but on those specific votes.
Readers can look up their representatives and senators and see where they fall on the democratic spectrum.
It may not be a surprise, but all three of Southwest Florida’s representatives clock in at 0 percent for bare-bones support for democracy.
The more expansive definition yields different results, however. Diaz-Balart has a 31.6 percent rating while Donalds and Steube both voted for democratic measures only 5.3 percent of the time.
Not mentioned in the FiveThirtyEight article is that Donalds has been prominent and vocal in supporting Florida’s legislative efforts to restrict voting access and praised Georgia’s passage of its voter suppression law.
Florida’s two Republican senators yield very different results. Sen. Marco Rubio voted 50 percent of the time in favor of the six key bare-bones democratic measures and 42.9 percent in favor of the 18 more expansive measures. Sen. Rick Scott voted for 25 percent of the bare-bones measures and 28.6 percent in favor of the more expansive proposals.
An in-depth look at dueling definitions of ‘sanctuary’ in America and Southwest Florida and what they mean for the future
July 7, 2021 by David Silverberg
Today the term “sanctuary” has taken on new meaning and is serving as a new cause of political controversy and contention.
This conflict is coming to a head in Southwest Florida—specifically in both Naples and Collier County—as movements to create sanctuary jurisdictions based on political criteria roil an otherwise placid region best known for its sunshine and beaches.
To understand the current conflict, it helps to go back into history and survey the evolution of the concept of sanctuary.
What are the origins of that concept? In the American political context, what were the sanctuaries of the past? What are the new concepts and how do they differ from previous concepts?
In a local context, how are these clashing concepts playing out in the American state of Florida—and especially in Southwest Florida?
And lastly, where is this heading and how is it likely to resolve itself?
The notion of a place of sanctuary is very ancient.
The ancient Greeks and Romans revered groves and temples where people could find refuge from the forces that threatened them. In ancient Rome even slaves could find sanctuary at statues of gods and owners who otherwise possessed them would respect the site.
But it was in the Middle Ages that what is commonly thought of today as sanctuary made its appearance. By the thirteenth century a person could take refuge from secular authorities or a mob in a church. The refugee was allowed 40 days of safety during which time he had to be fed and protected; meanwhile, the interlude afforded time for negotiations, clemency, confession or proof of innocence. If none of those things took place, the refugee left the church, forfeited his goods and went into exile—but stayed alive.
There have been other acts of sanctuary since then: French Huguenots were given refuge in England in 1681 in what may have been the first instance of a state offering sanctuary to another’s nationals. Today the concept of asylum has taken the place of the religious concept and been formalized between countries.
But in the United States the concept of sanctuary took different forms than in Europe—and for very different reasons.
The American context
From the day in 1620 that the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, the continent of America became a sanctuary for people fleeing religious persecution.
After the American revolution, President George Washington best expressed the American sense of tolerance and sanctuary in an August 17, 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, in which he said: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
The concept of sanctuary was deeply woven into the social fabric of the United States. It was next tested by the greatest moral challenge of the 19th century: slavery.
Beginning in the late 1700s anti-slavery activists using a variety of routes became known as the Underground Railroad, providing escaping slaves assistance and sanctuary on their way to ultimate sanctuary in non-slavery locations, chiefly Canada.
In the 1980s during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Cold War conflicts in Latin America led to a rise in political refugees fleeing to the United States from countries like Nicargua, where the US was supporting a “Contra” movement against the communist government and El Salvador where the US was advising a repressive government.
“Sanctuary widened from the idea of a church to sanctuary communities who confronted immigration policies and intolerance as manifested in immigration policies,” writes Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser in the 2017 paper The Sanctuary Movement: A Brief History. “These actions included legal help and provision of shelter in private homes and other settings. They provided shelter in churches and homes, and created a modern Underground Railroad for refugees.”
As with the Vietnam War sanctuary movement, periodically the federal government would crack down on the sanctuaries and their refugees. Federal authorities arrested refugees and the Immigration and Naturalization Service deported them.
In the 21st century the 2016 election of President Donald Trump gave rise to immediate fears of deportation of “Dreamers;” undocumented US residents who had come to the country as children and been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. During his campaign Trump said he would abolish DACA and deport the nearly 700,000 people, many of whom had known no other home.
Within days of Trump’s Nov. 3, 2016 election, his brutalist and threatening anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric led to a wave of “sanctuary campuses” at American colleges to protest his approach and provide refuge to migrants and Dreamers. From campuses the concept spread to cities.
The “sanctuary city” of the Trump era was one that refused to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. When a migrant was arrested, officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would issue a “detainer” requesting a 48 hour delay before the person was released so that his or her immigration status could be checked. If the detainee was found to be undocumented, the person would be subject to deportation. In “sanctuary cities,” officials refused to honor detainers.
Although there were no declared sanctuary cities in Florida, on June 14, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law outlawing sanctuary cities for migrants in the state.
Taking a leaf from the immigration sanctuary cities movement, conservative groups began using the “sanctuary” label for causes they regarded as threatened by the federal government.
To date, these causes have been protecting gun ownership, prohibiting abortion and nullifying federal laws.
“The push to impose ‘sanctuary’ and similar legislation is not the result of an organic, grassroots movement but rather a well-funded campaign marketed by the gun lobby and supported by antigovernment extremist groups such as Gun Owners of America, Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA),” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 six and seven-year old children, six adult staff and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. It was perhaps the most traumatic mass shooting in American history.
The shooting resulted in a wave of revulsion across the country and renewed calls for gun controls, some of which resulted in the passage of new laws governing gun ownership. This in turn led to a counter-effort.
On May 22, 2013, in response to the state of Maryland passing the Maryland State Firearms Act (MFSA) restricting the sale of different types of firearms, requiring their registration and limiting the size of magazines, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution calling the county a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”
The Carroll County resolution announced that the county would not “authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing any element of the MFSA that infringes on the right of people to keep and bear arms… .”
Since then, similar resolutions have been passed by states, counties and municipalities across the country. There was another wave of resolutions following the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre of Feb. 14, 2018. As of July 2021, about 1,200 local governments in 42 states had adopted such resolutions.
In Southwest Florida, Collier County passed a resolution declaring it would not “assist, support or condone” any infringement of the Second Amendment on Feb. 26, 2013 but did not use the word “sanctuary.” Lee County passed a resolution on March 25, 2013, DeSoto County declared itself a gun “haven” on Jan. 21, 2020, and Charlotte County declared itself a gun sanctuary county on May 11, 2021.
On June 22, 2019 anti-abortion activist and preacher Mark Lee Dickson convinced the town council of Waskom, Texas, population 2,189, to pass an ordinance creating a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”
Of these, 29 are in Texas, of which the largest is Lubbock, population 278,831; two are in Nebraska (tiny Hayes Center, population 288 and Blue Hill, population 941); and one is in Ohio (Lebanon, population 20,529). Eight Texas cities are counted as “denying” an ordinance and the movement calls the state capital of Austin a “city of death” for its adamant opposition. The movement is aiming at 39 potential new sanctuary cities in Texas and one in Florida—Naples.
The movement continues its efforts, proclaiming that it is “Protecting our cities by outlawing abortion, one city at a time.”
With the debate over pandemic masking and other health measures in 2020 and in the wake of President Donald Trump’s defeat and the failure of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, there was a new wave of “bill of rights sanctuary” efforts—essentially anti-federal sanctuaries—primarily in the southern United States.
These had their genesis in the gun sanctuary movement but went even further, back to the Posse Comitatus movement that began in the late 1960s. That movement held that local sheriffs were the highest ranking law enforcement officers in any county and no higher legal authority should be recognized. That, in turn, gave rise to a Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association founded in 2011 to get local sheriffs to uphold the Second Amendment by refusing to enforce any state or federal restrictions on gun ownership.
The premise of these ordinances is that the federal government, having fallen into hostile hands, is now going to try to violate rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights—mainly the Second Amendment. Under these ordinances, localities, primarily at the county level, refuse to cooperate with any federal actions they regard as unlawful.
Who would determine that the Bill of Rights was being violated, what exactly constitutes a violation and how it will be remedied is unclear.
By specifically calling on states and counties to “nullify” federal actions the movement harkens back to the pre-Civil War debate over “nullification,” when South Carolina politicians argued that they had the right to nullify federal laws with which they disagreed. In 1830 that idea was crushed by Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in the Senate (who concluded with the memorable line: “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and indivisible!”) and President Andrew Jackson, a southerner, who notably declared in a dinner toast: “Our federal union! It must be preserved!”
The current movement has a number of drivers. Organizations include Gun Owners of America, a non-profit lobby founded in 1976, which “sees firearms ownership as a freedom issue.” Another is Oath Keepers, the extremist organization of current and former military and law enforcement personnel whose members participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and are being prosecuted.
An activist and nullification evangelist based in northern Florida is KrisAnne Hall, who characterizes herself as a “constitutionalist.” She has associated with far right and white nationalist groups, providing legal justifications for extremist anti-government beliefs. In YouTube videos and speaking engagements Hall preaches a pre-Civil War interpretation of constitutional relations and actively promotes nullification.
Addressing people who would pass nullification ordinances, in an April 21, 2021 video Hall stated: “If [your] law does not state that ‘we will not enforce this law’ and ‘we will not allow the federal government to enforce these laws here;’ if your law does not contain that language, it is useless!” she argued.
“We’ve got states out there that are trying to walk the fence, trying to placate you with their ‘Second Amendment sanctuaries’ and they’re going to turn around and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to enforce these laws but the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] can come in and do it, the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] can come in and do it, DHS can come in and do it, whatever, the [Internal Revenue Service] can come in and do it. That’s not sanctuary, people, that’s setup. That’s enticement, that is entrapment, that is wrong.
“And so if your law does not include some kind of restriction and penalty for the federal government exercising those laws in your state, it is not a good law,” she insisted.
Hall came to Southwest Florida on April 24, 2021 to address the Republican Club of South Collier County, where she shared a stage with Dan Cook, a Naples-based far right activist, and Alfie Oakes, the grocer and owner of Seed to Table.
A nullification “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance was put on the agenda of the Collier County Commission on June 22. It is due to be considered next Tuesday, July 13.
Analysis: Insurrection by other means
The anti-federal, anti-abortion sanctuary movement has remained largely under the media radar, spreading in rural areas among small towns that rarely get national attention. To most Americans it no doubt seems fringe, odd and often absurd, so it has long been ignored.
But it bears attention because it is an effort to subvert and, indeed, overthrow the authority of the federal government and replace it with—what? Its advocates want to treat the nation’s laws, Constitution and Bill of Rights like a buffet whose offerings they can pick and choose or ignore if they wish. But law doesn’t work that way and the only alternative seems armed anarchy.
The anti-federal sanctuarists (and you read that word correctly, for the first time here) can make the argument that the left (or in the usual formulation, the radical Democratic left) started the sanctuary movement first.
They have a point. But there are important differences between what we’ll call “social” sanctuaries and “nullifying” sanctuaries.
In the American political definition, no matter who asserts it, “sanctuary” is an effort to carve out an exemption or exception from federal law—which should be uniformly applied and enforced across the country.
The social sanctuaries—the Underground Railroad, Vietnam resistance, Central American refuges, DACA and migrant sanctuaries—were all illegal and were acknowledged as such. They were acts of civil disobedience in which the participants were aware they were breaking the law and could face the penalties. They did it nonetheless because they felt they were serving a higher moral cause.
The nullifying sanctuaries—the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements—are attempts to cancel federal law, the Constitution and Bill of Rights through creation of what is essentially a counter-government where federal law does not apply.
When it comes to local governments the big difference between the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements and their gun sanctuary predecessor is that they are trying to impose ordinances on their jurisdictions—rules with the force of law and penalties for violations. Previously, towns and counties passed resolutions, which expressed an opinion or sentiment and did not carry penalties.
By denying the jurisdiction of federal law, the nullifying sanctuary movements are actually practicing insurrection by other means.
By passing these ordinances, states, counties and municipalities are starting down a slippery slope whose logical end is the creation of a separate polity subject to its own laws and sovereignty. This is also known as insurrection, rebellion or secession. The ordinances may pay lip service to the Bill of Rights but in fact they are rejecting the United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights, all the other amendments and protections of the rule of law.
Americans have fought and died to prevent that kind of insurrection. Just because this movement is legalistic and non-violent doesn’t make it any less dangerous to the cohesion and indivisibility of the United States.
The battlefield for America’s future has moved from the walls of the Capitol building to the small towns and rural counties of its heartland but the stakes are no less high.
America has been here before. It has faced and overcome rebellion, nullification, secession and most recently insurrection. It now needs to overcome the threats to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights cloaked in the language and the trappings of sanctuary. The choice is between constitutional democracy and anarchy.
Anyone looking for a sanctuary for freedom and the rights of the individual need look no further than the United States itself and its Constitution. It’s the greatest sanctuary in history.
Now it’s up to every truly patriotic American citizen to ensure that it remains that way.
The Collier County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.
A group agitating for the city of Naples, Fla., to declare itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn” could threaten the city’s tourism and hospitality-based economic recovery.
Naples experienced “an amazing April” in tourism recovery, Anne Wittine, the director of data analysis for Research Data Services, told Collier County’s Tourist Development Council on May 24, according to TheNaples Daily News. Visitors and spending in the city were up over 1,000 percent over the year before and room nights and hotel occupancy increased over 900 percent.
Clearly, Naples is roaring back from its pandemic shutdowns. But all that recovery is threatened if it becomes the focal point of an unneeded controversy centered around a fringe movement out of Texas, which is seeking to ban all abortions within the city limits.
The new sanctuary cities movement
The anti-abortion “sanctuary cities” movement is the brainchild of Mark Lee Dickson, an itinerant preacher and self-professed 35-year-old virgin from White Oak, a small town in east Texas that sits an hour’s drive from the Louisiana border.
Dickson began preaching against abortion outside a women’s clinic in Shreveport, La., in 2012 and made the anti-abortion cause his own. He traveled rural Texas towns to preach his message. In 2019 he broached the idea of a “sanctuary city for the unborn” in tiny Waskom, Texas, population 2,189. He told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that he wanted to forestall Waskom from having a clinic like nearby Shreveport’s across the state line.
“When I reached out to them it was all about protecting Waskom,” Dickson told The Guardian. “I didn’t have any other city in mind.”
The City Council of Waskom unanimously voted in a sanctuary city ordinance on June 11, 2019. The ordinance simply outlawed abortions within city limits.
From there, Dickson’s efforts led 23 other Texas towns and one town each in Nebraska and Ohio to pass anti-abortion ordinances.
The largest city to vote itself an anti-abortion sanctuary city is Lubbock, Texas, with a population of 278,831. Initially, the Lubbock City Council rejected the ordinance but it was then voted in by referendum on May 1.
It was immediately challenged in court by Planned Parenthood, which had opened a clinic there last year, and the American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional. On Tuesday, June 1, a federal judge ruled that he did not have jurisdiction in the case and dismissed it, pointing out that because it would be enforced by private citizens through lawsuits rather than state or local authorities, he could not limit the right of private citizens to sue.
It was the same day the ordinance took effect. While the sanctuary cities movement counted it as a victory, the Planned Parenthood clinic continues to operate.
“We will continue to stand up for [our patients] with all of our resources,” Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, told The Texas Tribune.
Naples, a city of roughly 22,000 and known as politically very conservative, is a test case for this movement in Florida.
Dickson visited the North Naples Seed to Table market owned by extreme conservative Alfie Oakes, to preach in July 2020.
“I did not draw Naples, Florida out of a hat,” Dickson told WINK News at the time. “The people of Naples, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people reach out to me and others saying they want their city to outlaw abortion. They don’t want babies to be murdered in the city.”
On March 15 at the Naples City Council regular meeting, William Oppenheimer, a local lawyer and head of the anti-abortion organization Act for Life, proposed putting an anti-abortion ordinance on the Council agenda. Councilmembers rejected it by a vote of 4 to 3, with Paul Perry, Mike McCabe, Ray Christman, and Gary Price opposed and Mayor Theresa Heitman, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchinson and Ted Blankenship voting in favor.
At an April 19 working session, Mark Lee Dickson came to Naples and organized a demonstration of about 25 people favoring the ordinance but did not make comments to the Council. Five people spoke against the ordinance during the public comment period.
At the Council’s April 21 regular meeting abortion opponents held a demonstration and some spoke to the Council during the public comments period. At that time Oppenheimer vowed in an interview with WINK-TV that demonstrators would be back to protest at every city council meeting.
Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party, told WINK News at the time: “I don’t believe that that is appropriate for a local municipality to be ruling on. I think it is government overreach at this level.”
Any sensible person with even a passing knowledge of basic American civics can see that the proposal for a local ordinance of this nature is unconstitutional on its face. At the federal level, the issue of women’s choice is working its way up to the Supreme Court in a number of cases and will be decided there. That decision will apply to the entire country.
On a state level, declaring Naples—or any other Florida city—a “sanctuary city” may well be illegal, running afoul of the state’s anti-sanctuary city law. While that law may have been driven by an enmity against immigrants, it nonetheless may have banned the entire concept of sanctuary cities when the legislature passed it and the governor signed it.
And beyond the argument whether women have a right to make their own decisions regarding their health, from a local, municipal standpoint, the City Council of Naples would be doing itself and the city a deep disservice if it even considers this proposed ordinance.
This is a solution that Naples simply doesn’t need in search of a problem it simply doesn’t have. It’s not as though Naples is a hotbed of the kind of women’s health services that the sanctuary city people are trying to outlaw, nor is it something that vast numbers of actual city residents are demanding. Instead, a small group is trying to impose its will for no other purpose than to prove a point and meet its larger goals.
For a city that is attempting to emerge from the economic damage of a pandemic, a drop in tourism and hospitality business and which may be facing the additional blow of a red tide summer, a completely unnecessary, divisive controversy is the last thing it needs. As a Florida test case the ordinance debate would focus unfavorable national attention on the town, hurting its reputation as a welcoming and open vacation spot for everyone around the world.
Given its unconstitutionality, even considering whether to consider the ordinance is already consuming too much time that is much better spent on more pressing needs. If such an ordinance were to pass, it would impose expenses in litigation on a city that needs every penny it can get to meet its existing municipal responsibilities and obligations.
And from a purely parochial standpoint, this seems like another outlandish Texas idea that some extremist Texans are trying to foist on the rest of the country—like seceding from the union or creating an independent power grid that can’t withstand a winter storm.
So if the towns of Texas want to go their own way in this matter, they can certainly try. But for a Florida city that’s finally open for tourism and has a more welcoming and cosmopolitan view of the world, adhering to the US Constitution and following plain common sense seems like a much better bet.
To reach the members of the Naples City Council, contact: