By Richard Sullins |

Republicans Kirk Smith and Arianna Lavallee were re-elected for another year as chair and vice chair of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, several retiring law enforcement officers were honored, and the appointment of a new sheriff was approved. But it was the impassioned debate over a non-binding symbolic resolution introduced by Smith that Monday’s meeting will be remembered for.

Placed on the meeting agenda at the prerogative of the chairman, the resolution says “the Lee County Board of Commissioners endorse(s) the passage of ‘Heartbeat Bill’ legislation in North Carolina and that this endorsement includes a reporting and verification process consistent with that passed by other States.”

County commissioners have no authority to regulate abortions within their jurisdiction, but they do have the right to express opinions on issues being considered at the state or federal level, or in the courts. Smith’s resolution supports the enactment of a Texas-style law that would ban abortions whenever medical equipment can detect a heartbeat within a mother’s womb, as early as six weeks after conception.

Beyond the debates over abortion that have been going on for more than half a century, ‘Heartbeat Bills’ have been the source of much debate across the country because of disagreements surrounding the time at which an actual heartbeat begins. The waters are further muddied by the differing types of equipment used to detect a heartbeat and the wildly differing results they produce.

It all started more than two hours into the meeting just after vice chair Lavallee made a motion to adopt the resolution without any discussion. Democrat Cameron Sharpe immediately objected.

“This is beyond the scope of the board to address this issue,” he said. “I was elected to bring jobs, build schools, support teachers, and provide them with the supplement that you (Republicans) did not choose to give them during the pandemic. Also, I was elected to help bring lower taxes, which I have supported twice. As for this Heartbeat Bill, the North Carolina General Assembly hasn’t had a public hearing on this and if they wanted the support of the people, they would have held public hearings. But they didn’t, kind of like we didn’t have a public hearing on redistricting.”

Sharpe said he could only support the resolution if it addressed other state-level issues outside the board’s scope of authority.

“The only way I can support it is if you will support Medicaid expansion, either by a separate resolution saying we all support Medicaid expansion or by putting them together,” he said. “I figure that if we are dabbling in issues that we really can’t do anything about, like this Heartbeat Bill, then we might as well include Medicaid expansion, too.”

Sharpe continued that he viewed Medicaid expansion as a related issue worth adding to the resolution.

“You guys want the babies to be born,” he said, “but you don’t want to take care of them afterwards – the poor, the people in need, the people who can’t take care of them. I think Medicaid expansion would take care of that. So, since this is beyond the scope of this board, whenever an issue like this comes up in the future, pick up the phone and call your legislator or congressman or senator. This isn’t what the people of Lee County elected us for. I think I know how this vote is going to go, but that’s my feeling.”

Sharpe offered a motion to expand Medicaid expansion to the resolution, a move that was defeated along party lines.

Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives Sr. said “I take great pride in coming here to do the county’s business, not as a Democrat, but as someone who is interested in doing whatever I can for the betterment of all situations.”

Reives went on to say that “even in this situation, some things are just personal and private. For example, I’ve not asked a single board member whether you’ve gotten your (COVID vaccine). But I’d be willing to offer a resolution tonight, and ask you to support that resolution, that any and all elected officials ought to be vaccinated or removed from this board.”

Reives asked Smith whether he would support such a resolution, to which the chairman replied “absolutely not.”

“I didn’t think so,” Reives responded. “Because that infringes upon your rights, as if what we are about to vote on doesn’t violate someone else’s rights. This is nothing more than another political stunt for 2022 or whenever the courts decide. This is not about what you think of the people of Lee County. It’s about what you think, period, the people who are supporting this.”

Lavallee disagreed, saying “I’ve had a lot of constituents talk to me about this and I’ve had to explain to them that in this position, we don’t have the authority to make the rules in situations like this and nor am I saying we should. But sitting in this seat, we do have the right to speak to higher moral issues.”

Republican Commissioner Bill Carver jumped into the conversation, adding “we talk about the citizens of Lee County. The citizens that we fail to think about are the babies in the womb. The hard attitude behind this Heartbeat Bill has to do with a moral conscience about whether or not it’s appropriate to elevate the woman’s right above the right of the baby to survive. So, I would offer that as a reasonable and logical argument.”

Sharpe made the case that if the issue were personal for any of the board’s members, they might see things differently.

“If any of you guys had a daughter who was raped by some horrible person, you would break your neck to get her to a doctor and get an abortion. That’s not a question. That’s a statement,” he said.

Carver again responded, saying that he had an acquaintance who was born following the rape of her mother and that she feels her mother made the right decision.

That drew a quick response from Reives.

“I don’t take personal positions on what that mother should or should not do. That’s not my call,” he said. “But I do find it interesting that we should take up time tonight to debate this issue. None of you have the right to tell that woman what to do. This is all going before the courts. It goes back to what I said at the beginning. This is all a political stunt. I should have expected it and I am now more convinced than ever of that. Hypocrites.”

Democrat Mark Lovick said his faith made him inclined to support the resolution, but he also questioned whether the issue should be before the board at all.

“I think that as commissioners, we don’t need to throw our opinions out every time something comes up,” he said.

Carver closed out the debate with a statement on “applying motives to motions. A motion either stands on its merits or not. And to say that the reason we are bringing this as a political thing…”

“It is,” Reives interrupted.

“…is not correct,” Carver continued. “The reason I will vote for it has to do with the greater issues of the culture and morals of the nation and being in a position to have some minor influence, possibly, on the legislature is a privilege and I think it represents the best standards we can have as an elected body.”

The final vote was 5-2, with Lovick crossing over to vote with the Republican majority in favor of the resolution.

The meeting was near its conclusion as County Manager Dr. John Crumpton began his monthly report to the board. But Reives had had enough. The veteran commissioner picked up his papers and coat, and left the meeting, shaking his head on the way out.