This article originally appeared in the Winston Salem Journal.
Pro-life advocates in some circles across the country are hailing Yadkin County commissioners for making it the first sanctuary county in the country for the unborn.
But the commissioners never took such an action.
On Aug. 19, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes “the full humanity of the unborn child” and declares the county to be a “strong advocate for the preborn” that will defend the dignity of all humans, from conception or fertilization.
The word “sanctuary” never appears in the resolution.
That word did appear in a draft resolution that local pastor Keith Pavlanksy presented to the board in early August. But upon the recommendation of county attorney Ed Powell, the word was stricken from the final resolution that the commissioners adopted, according to Kevin Austin, the chairman of the board of commissioners.
Despite the change in wording, Austin said the intent is the same.
“It has the same effect,” Austin said. “The word ‘sanctuary’ can be used interchangeably. It’s just not the word in our resolution.”
Susanna Birdsong, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, said the resolution will have no bearing on a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.
“Abortion is legal in all 50 states, including North Carolina, and this unenforceable resolution does nothing to change that,” Birdsong said in a statement. “Women have a right to access the care they need without shame, obstacles and stigma no matter where they live. We encourage any Yadkin County residents who have concerns about the impact of this policy to contact our office.”
Pavlanksy spearheaded the push for the county to be a sanctuary county for “preborn” children. Pavlanksy is a pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Yadkinville and president of Personhood North Carolina, which is affiliated with the Personhood Alliance.
The Personhood Alliance is a pro-life organization that classifies human beings as legal persons, from the moment of conception. It has launched an initiative aimed at getting municipalities declared as sanctuaries.
Pavlanksy approached Yadkin County commissioners in early August about passing a resolution to make the county a sanctuary, handing copies of a draft to them. Billy Seats, the pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Yadkinville, also spoke in support of the resolution, saying that churches will support young women who have babies instead of aborting them.
At the following meeting, the commissioners passed a resolution without discussion. That resolution omitted the word sanctuary.
Personhood Alliance sent out a press release with a video calling Yadkin County the first sanctuary county in the country and word soon spread on social media through such outlets as Church Militant, Mommy Activist and Christian Headlines.
Yadkin County Manager Lisa Hughes reiterated on Thursday that commissioners did not make the county a sanctuary.
Pavlanksy called the passing of the resolution a huge victory and anticipates surrounding counties will adopt their own resolutions. He also expects the county will commemorate the passing of the resolution with a plaque on a government building. The draft resolution called for a plaque, but that also was struck from the final resolution.
Austin said the board’s action is best memorialized in the minutes of the meeting, but he didn’t discount the idea of a plaque at a government site.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I can’t say yes or no on that right now.”
Tara Romano, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said the resolution sends a message of shame to people in Yadkin County who have had abortions or who love someone who did.
“Abortions are already a stigmatized procedure. It’s a personal decision that women make for a lot of reasons,” she said. “This resolution further stigmatizes abortion care.”
The resolution doesn’t call for the county to take any concrete steps that might impact, for instance, its family planning program in the Department of Human Services. The county’s teen pregnancy rate has spiked from 28.2 per 1,000 15-19 year old girls to 46 in 2018, according to the 2018 State of the County Health Report compiled by the Department of Human Services.
Austin said he sees the resolution as showing support for a cause, much in the same way the commissioners have passed resolutions raising awareness of child abuse and domestic violence.
“It’s great we have a community that feels so strongly and willing to step forward for these things, whatever it is,” he said.