Controversial abortion ordinance causes split between Michigan council

Corey Murray
Hillsdale Daily News

HILLSDALE, Mich. — Hillsdale City Council voted unanimously Monday to send a proposed controversial ordinance aiming to outlaw abortions and abortion-inducing medications and declare the city a “sanctuary to the unborn” to its Operations and Governance Committee for further review.

The vote came after a nearly three-hour business meeting Monday night where both abortion-rights and anti-abortion arguments were made during the nearly two-hour public comment portion of the meeting.

Councilman Tony Vear asked for the proposed ordinance, which would add five sections to the city code if passed, to be placed on Monday’s agenda for consideration. 

The ordinance was drafted by Mark Lee Dickson, director with Right to Life of East Texas and Founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative. Dickson was asked to attend Monday’s council meeting by Heather Tritchka-Stuchell, vice president for Hillsdale County Right to Life. 

Tritchka-Stuchell, whose husband, Greg Stuchell, serves as a councilman, said the urgency for the proposed ordinance was the “Biden Administration’s intent to make abortion available in every U.S. zip-code in America.” 

“We want to keep abortions out of Hillsdale,” Tritchka said. 

Neither Hillsdale Hospital, nor any other health care provider in the county, offer abortions.

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"Keep your bible out of my uterus!" was a constant rallying cry from a abortion-rights demonstration outside Hillsdale City Hall Monday night as the council discussed a proposed anti-abortion ordinance.

“There are cities all across the United States discussing this,” Dickson said. “This is something that’s a matter of doing what’s right.” 

Dickson has been involved in helping to pass similar ordinances in 33 other cities with a majority of them being located in Texas. Two were in Nebraska and one in Ohio. 

The proposed ordinance called for the potential for criminal penalties to be imposed with a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $500 fine for anyone who performs an abortion in Hillsdale or anyone who aids another with receiving an abortion. Proposed criminal penalties did not apply to the mother undergoing an abortion.

Many who spoke during public comment called the proposed ordinance “unenforceable” and “unconstitutional” as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision stands as the law of the land, superseding current Michigan law which makes abortion illegal. Others were uncomfortable with Dickson, an “out-of-towner”, drafting ordinance language for the city. 

“We are not a theocracy,” Josh Colletta said. “This is not the job of the city government, it’s the federal government’s job.” 

Ashton Moore, a 17-year-old resident and a vocal component of the abortion-rights protest which ran the duration of the council meeting outside City Hall, shared her story of being sexually assaulted at the age of 12 and reflected on her trauma which could have resulted in an unplanned pregnancy at a young age. 

While activists with the Hillsdale County Democrat Party and others organized a protest outside council chambers and spoke during public comment, some leaders from across the aisle in the Hillsdale County Republican Party also opposed the proposed ordinance as written. 

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Lance Lashaway, the vice-chairman of the Republican Party, was one of them. 

“I don’t see why more government would be beneficial,” Lashaway said. “Abortions are already illegal in Michigan.” 

Dickson countered the proposed ordinance would stand if Roe v. Wade was overturned at the federal level.

Penny Swan, the Hillsdale County Republican Party’s treasurer, also opposed the ordinance as written and questioned why it was being “rushed through” without going through any normal channels such as the operations and governance committee. 

During council comment and discussion about the proposed ordinance, Vear called for the council to set a public hearing. 

“If it saves just one unborn child, it’s worth it,” Vear said. “We’re basically talking about the death of an innocent child. I like to speak for the unborn because they don’t have a voice.”

Stuchell said the proposed ordinance was drafted in part by a top constitutional attorney and that “a lot of this doesn’t matter until the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade.”

“This is not government overreach,” Stuchell said. “This is preventing government overreach.” 

Councilman Bruce Sharp, a self-admitted Democrat and abortion-rights advocate on the council of mostly staunch conservatives, said “a woman’s body is her right, her choice, just my opinion.”

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Sharp echoed Swan’s concerns from the public comment in asking why the proposed ordinance was not going to the operations and governance committee for review first before a public hearing was set. 

Stuchell and Vear both agreed the committee should review the proposed ordinance, which ultimately led to the council’s decision Monday. 

The operations and governance committee is chaired by Councilman Will Morrisey, a retired Hillsdale College professor, who was absent from Monday’s meeting. 

Mayor Adam Stockford said he would be more comfortable with the review and perhaps the committee taking examples from the proposed ordinance in drafting its own language as he did not want the council to do anything that was “repugnant to the Constitution.”

The operations and governance committee has not set a date to review the proposed ordinance.

Follow Corey Murray on Twitter: @cmurrayHDN.