Public comment turned contentious at Wednesday night’s Newtown Township Board of Supervisors meeting in response to a Resolution to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose.
For the second time in a month, input from the community, offered by residents and non-residents, provided two extremely different viewpoints about reproductive health care.
The Resolution was drafted by the Supervisors following the Supreme Court Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, and transferred legalities surrounding abortion back to the states.
“We’re not making any laws,” said Township Supervisor Elen Snyder. “It’s only symbolic, but we’ve done symbolic things before and now we’re accused by all these people of not being in our lane.”
Historically, the Board has passed several resolutions of an emblematic nature including support of “Love is Love,” and acknowledging the federal holiday of Juneteenth. Most recently, the Supervisors adopted a Resolution to curb the use of single use plastic bags and against the sale of the Bucks County Sewer Authority to Aqua America.
Prior to the Supervisors’ vote to adopt the Resolution to endorse a pro-choice stance, three hours of public comment took place.
Two rabbis, women who had experienced medical emergencies related to a pregnancy, and a father mindful of his daughter’s future spoke in support of women having choice and bodily autonomy
Steve Cickay, who has lived in Newtown since 1985, stated that freedom, and particularly religious freedom, symbolizes a key principle upon which the United States was founded.
“For over 50 years, American women had reproductive freedom enshrined in a Supreme Court interpretation of our constitution,” explained Cickay, who spoke in support of the resolution. “Now that freedom is being eroded and the just fight to restore that freedom has begun throughout our county.”
Newtown resident Christine Andrusiewicz said that she did not believe that the Resolution represented all of the residents of Newtown Township.
“A resolution of this issue falls outside the purview of the Supervisors’ role,” she and other members in the audience said.
But does it?
A review of Title 53 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes that govern Township Supervisors says:
The board of supervisors shall:
(1) Be charged with the general governance of the township and the execution of legislative, executive and administrative powers in order to ensure sound fiscal management and to secure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the township.
The emotionally charged testimony from those who do not believe women should have the right to choose was riddled with misinformation, including an accusation that $2 million dollars of American Relief Funds received by Newtown had gone to abortion clinics.
Anti-choice activists also displayed life-like three dimensional models of embryos and offered their opinion as to when life begins.
Public input was not limited to in-person testimony; letters and emails had also been received by the Supervisors.
”I am quite resentful of how much of my life has to be adapted to tenets and mores I do not believe in and indeed, sometimes deem hypocritical and reprehensible,” wrote Sharon Furlong.
Additional communications, some containing hateful rhetoric by those against reproductive health care, were also received and reviewed by the Board.
One speaker implied a potential conspiracy was underway due to the fact that other municipalities had passed resolutions with identical language.
Approximately 14 Pennsylvania municipalities have issued resolutions with matching verbiage. However, this activity is not nefarious and has been transparent in nature.
“We did it for consistency. We did it so they all look the same. We’re all sending the exact same message (to Harrisburg) and just changing our township, or borough or city names,” Snyder explained.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) provides template-like wording to its member communities to ensure that every municipality conveys the same message to legislators.
Following public comment, the Resolution passed three to one and was adopted.