The City of Ithaca’s Common Council voiced strong support for abortion rights on Sept. 7, voting to encourage federal lawmakers to pass a bill that keeps insurers and local governments from restricting access to abortions.
Common Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution introduced by Alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-1st) supporting the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2015. The act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D–Calif.), is currently before the House of Representatives and would make it illegal for public health insurers such as Medicaid and Medicare to deny coverage for abortion as well as prohibit state and local governments from restricting insurance coverage of abortion by private insurers.
“I know that, in general, we as a body tend to avoid making statements on broad national issues,” Brock said. “But we have seen in communities across the nation, states across the nation, more and more individual locations taking stands to limit access to a woman’s right to an abortion.”
About 30 people attended the meeting to advocate the resolution, copies of which will be sent to the Tompkins County Legislature and state and federal representatives.
“How can we allow zip code to dictate care?” said a junior at Cornell University.
“Throughout my 44 years teaching public health policy and doing research in the field, I know the field of public health is extremely concerned that restricted access to abortion is harming the most vulnerable women in the country,” said Stewart Auyash, chair of the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education at Ithaca College.
“Even in Ithaca, women are affected,” Auyash said, adding that more than 100 women in Ithaca are covered by an insurer that only pays for abortions when a doctor certifies that the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
“For me, this is a women’s rights issue, it’s an equity issue, and I’m kind of amazed that here we are in 2016, and despite the fight that has been going on for decades, we’re still here and we’re still facing this same fight,” Brock said, adding that she was “very proud to bring this resolution forward today.”
Mayor Svante Myrick promised at the outset of meeting that Common Council would take attendees on “a tour of the city and touch on issues all over,” and for the next three and a half hours, local officials and residents spoke about many issues including swimming in the gorges and a fine to be paid to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Swimming at the Gorges
City forester Jeanne Grace spoke to the council, lamenting the environmental and ecological destruction that swimmers at Six Mile Creek have caused. [See an account of her report to the Natural Areas Commission on page 3.]
Grace said that alcohol containers, cigarette butts, and large amounts of other trash are left behind by rebellious swimmers.
“Especially concerning is small trash like cigarette butts and bottle caps, posing significant risk to aquatic life,” she said.
Nestling ducks, Grace said, have abandoned their homes at Second Dam and First Dam, and the hillsides are eroding from the combination of high foot traffic and the drought.
Natural areas ranger Angela Simms said there were two very different people who hike to the gorges: families enjoying the area peacefully on the one hand, and people that come and “abuse the area, such as littering, cliff jumping, and vandalism or abusing the rangers verbally or just taunting them” on the other.
Simms said the area, unsurprisingly, is especially busy during the summer months from Friday through Sunday.
Students often feel entitled, Simms said, and tell her and other rangers, “The ticket will just be thrown out anyway.”
She asked Common Council to give the rangers ticketing power, which she said would help the rangers and allow local police agencies to focus on other issues rather than spending an hour at Six Mile Creek. A task force commissioned by Mayor Myrick is currently studying the issues of swimmer safety, trash and vandalism.
Common Council entered into executive session—closed to the public and the media—at the end of the meeting to discuss pending litigation against the city.
After returning from a closed room, Council voted unanimously to pay $2,500 in fines to the Department of Environmental Conservation
The fine stems from a month-long blockage that resulted in 3.2 million gallons of wastewater to overflow in October 2015, Ithaca employees discovered that a blockage under the Cayuga Lake Inlet had caused about 3.2 million gallons of wastewater to overflow.
Mayor Myrick said the initial fine had been much larger than the ultimate $2,500 agreed to, but that City attorney Ari Lavine had negotiated with the DEC to greatly reduce the fine. •