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El Paso City Council votes to establish commission or board to protect women’s rights

UPDATE (05/12): El Paso City Council voted to approve a commission to protect women's rights. The vote was:

  • Peter Svarzbein - Yes
  • Alexandra Annello - Yes
  • Cassandra Hernandez - Yes
  • Isabel Salcido - Yes
  • Henry Rivera - Yes
  • Voting against:
  • Joe Molinar - No
  • Cissy Lizarraga - No
  • Claudia Rodriguez - No

Public discussion focused on the pro-life pro-choice debate with passionate speakers on both sides. City leaders debated over the legality of establishing such a commission before the Supreme Court decides whether or not to overturn Roe V. Wade.

Representative Peter Svarzbein pointed out that the commission could be made up of people appointed by representatives of council and represent various points of view. He used the veteran's affairs committee as an example.

Svarzbein said that women in this community need this type of space. "This is precisely the kind of platform for women to discuss these issues in a rational, reasonable and in an intelligent space where they can have these discussions. They can have these debates about what are these issues relating to women in our community."

City Representative Henry Rivera, who placed the item on the agenda, said the city needs this type of board.

"This commission is long overdue and it would give women in El Paso a unified voice to address healthcare issues, economic disparities and advance equality and equity," Rivera said.

Representative Claudia Rodriguez questions why specifics weren't listed in the item, saying she only saw the item as being part of the leaked Supreme Court decision.

"I don’t see anything about wage disparity, I don’t see any specifics that i believe are absolutely 100% important. I am one of 5 women that sit on this council and of course women’s rights, equality are important to me. However, I am looking at this background discussion and I don’t see it. I only see this being triggered by a leaked Supreme Court decision that hasn’t happened yet," the representative said.

City Representative Cassandra Hernandez also voiced her support, this as she held her infant son.

"It is up to local communities to rally and to advocate, so that we can be the voice for the voiceless. We have an opportunity today to allow women to speak up when they feel so marginalized and when it feels like their government is not protecting them. This commission is more than just abortion rights. It's about making sure every woman understand their value in this country within local communities."

The most emotional moment came Mayor Oscar Leeser. As he was about to share a story, Mayor Leeser got chocked up. He asked to speak a few minutes later. When he regained his composure, Leeser stated he was 100% against abortion, but that he believes in rights. He told the story of how he and his wife were told 40 years ago that they should abort to complications with a pregnancy. Despite repeated advisements, they said no. Their daughter was born 10 weeks early, and they were told she wouldn't live. Through his tears, the Mayor said his daughter will now be 40 years old, and has 4 beautiful children.

Mayor Leeser said everyone should have the right to make their decision, and he and his wife made the right decision.

EL PASO, Texas – In response to the leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion indicating justices would overturn Roe V. Wade, District 7 Representative Henry Rivera has introduced an item for Tuesday's council meeting to establish a Women's Commission or Board focused on women's equality and protecting women's rights.

The item is co-sponsored by City Representatives Peter Svarzbein, District 1, Alexsandra Annello, District 2 and Cassandra Hernandez, District 3.

“Women’s freedom to choose over their own body is a fundamental right and should be protected,” said City Representative Henry Rivera in a statement. “No person or government entity should control or threaten women’s rights. Men need to unite and support women because actions taken against women’s rights affect everyone.”

ABC-7 spoke to City Representative Alexsandra Annello about the potential creation of the women's commission. She said some council members felt compelled to place this item on agenda after the court's leak, but it's something some have wanted to create for quite sometime.

"The important thing about having a commission for women, led by women, is allowing them to have the space to decide what they want to discuss and decide what issues are important to them as a community," Annello said.

While abortion rights are an aspect of what this potential board could talk about, Annello said the commission would advocate for other topics like equal pay or child care for women.

"As women, we should understand what our rights are," Annello said. "We should be able to fight for that and on a local level, we want to support women doing that."

However Tuesday's agenda item has created some backlash.

Chair of the El Paso Republican Party, Ray Baca sent ABC-7 a statement that reads in part: "Outside of presenting a false 'Look how much we care' narrative for political purposes; there is nothing the City can (or should) do that will change the eventual outcome of this issue. If Women’s Rights need to be protected-how about the rights of unborn children? Should we not first form an Unborn Children’s rights commission to protect the rights of those who have no voice - unlike women who can easily speak for themselves."

Baca added that those who are against the creation of the commission should speak out against it to the city representative or Rep. Rivera himself.

The item is set to go to City Council for a vote on Tuesday at 9 a.m.

You can sign up for public comment before then in-person or online.

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