Council repeals 'pro-choice city' resolution The original measure was strictly symbolic but provoked criticism. Cardinal Rigali praised the 13-4 turnaround.

Posted: June 15, 2007

City Council yesterday rescinded its week-old proclamation that Philadelphia is a "pro-choice city," putting an end to a purely symbolic debate that drew the attention of Cardinal Justin Rigali and roiled Council as few other issues had in months.

The original resolution, passed by a narrow 9-8 vote, was repealed by a vote of 13-4. Five Council members flipped sides after public criticism and Rigali's objections.

Sponsored by Democratic Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the resolution stated that Philadelphia supports "women's reproductive rights and freedom" and defends "the right to choose a legal and safe abortion as a final but critical option for women."

Like most Council proclamations, the resolution would have had no impact on city policy, but that didn't stop Council members from spending considerable time weighing it in their final week before the summer recess.

"I'm angry with myself for not abstaining," said Councilman Jim Kenney, who last week voted for the resolution. "It's not something I think we should have forced on the public at large."

A clear Council majority, including Kenney, supports abortion rights. But by yesterday, few members felt it was appropriate for Council to weigh in on a controversial matter that is well out of the city's jurisdiction.

"I think that we should stay away from issues like this that cause division in our city," said Councilman Frank Rizzo, who sponsored the harshly worded repeal.

Asked whether the episode had been a Council embarrassment, Rizzo said, "I believe so."

Brown voted against Rizzo's resolution, objecting to its tone. But she said she wished she had proceeded differently with last week's resolution.

"Regret is too strong a word," Brown said. "I have learned as an enlightened pro-choice advocate that there may have been other ways to make my position known."

In a brief statement, Rigali applauded Council's reversal.

"I appreciate that Council has considered seriously the sensitivities of all Philadelphians and has rightly voted to take these sensitivities into account," he said.

The vote was a disappointment to Dayle Steinberg, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which had helped Brown develop the resolution."It's unfortunate that there couldn't be an agreement to support the rights of women and families in Philadelphia," Steinberg said.

Still, she said, she wasn't surprised by the repeal "because the resolution wasn't viewed as being inclusive of everyone's views or sentiments on the issue."

A resolution that would have declared Philadelphia pro-choice and pro-life was withdrawn by its sponsor, Councilman Brian O'Neill.

Council yesterday approved more than 80 pieces of legislation in a traditional pre-recess cram session. Council will next meet in September.

Many of the bills were passed en masse using a parliamentary procedure called the "consent calendar," which Council has rarely used because former member David Cohen, who died in 2005, opposed it.

Most of the approved ordinances were routine zoning adjustments and funding authorizations, but notable developments included final approval of the fiscal 2008 city budget and the Barnes Foundation lease on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Before the Barnes Foundation can move from Merion, the site's current occupant - the Youth Study Center - must find a new home. Councilman Darrell Clarke said the city was still searching for a temporary location.

Also yesterday, Council approved the creation of two city offices: the Office of the Public School Family and Child Advocate and the Office of the Handicapped and Disabled Advocate. Because the offices require amendments to the City Charter, they require approval in the November general election.

Councilwoman Carol Ann Campbell, who was defeated in the May primary, sponsored the legislation that would create the offices, but she brushed off the suggestion that they would be her legacy. "I don't think about legacy," Campbell said. "I think when you concern yourself with legacy it's egotism."

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 215-854-2827 or pkerkstra@phillynews.com.

Council's About-Face

Voting last week to proclaim Philadelphia a pro-choice city:

Jannie Blackwell William Greenlee

Blondell Reynolds Brown Jim Kenney

Darrell Clarke Donna Reed Miller

Frank DiCicco Daniel Savage

W. Wilson Goode Jr.

Voting no:

Carol Campbell Juan Ramos

Jack Kelly Frank Rizzo

Joan Krajewski Marian Tasco

Brian O'Neill Anna Verna

Voting yesterday to keep the pro-choice designation:

Blackwell Brown Clarke Greenlee

Voting to rescind the resolution:

Campbell DiCicco Goode Kelly Kenney

Krajewski Miller O'Neill Ramos

Rizzo Savage Tasco Verna

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