NORMAN, Okla. - Public comments at a city council meeting led to words and actions that have Norman residents picking sides after abortion became the topic of discussion.
Resident Shane Dodson took to the mic to express his beliefs the city should stand firm against abortion. But, during his comments, two council members, Kate Bierman and Alexandra Scott, turned their backs to him.
"I see that as kind of an immature thing to do," Dodson told News 4. "I see that as a reminder of what I feel those women were doing figuratively, turning their backs on the most helpless among us."
Scott, who represents Dodson's district, said Dodson's comments made her and other women present uncomfortable.
"We turned our chairs to him because it actually had some sort of hateful speech towards women," Scott said. "It didn’t actually become a big issue until our fellow council member decided to scold us."
Following the public comments, each council member is given the opportunity to speak about any topic; this time is usually used to remind constituents of upcoming happenings. When it was Robert Castleberry's turn, he talked directly to Dodson.
"Sir, I want to apologize to you," he said. "As several members, your public representatives, turned their back on you as you addressed us. We are elected to represent you, and I am embarrassed that anybody would turn their back. Whether you agree with somebody or disagree with somebody, that is not public discourse."
Moments later, Scott was given time to speak, and she responded to Castleberry then to Dodson.
"Council Member Castleberry, please do not ever feel obligated to apologize on my behalf," she said. "I am not sorry that I turned around when you came up here talking about anti-choice legislation in the city. On a day that we’re having a proclamation about International Women's Day, this is extremely inappropriate."
Dodson and his wife addressed the council once before. The first time, Sereta Wilson turned her back on him. Council Member Wilson was not present at the most recent meeting.
Though cities do not regulate abortion law, Dodson mentioned sanctuary cities that protect immigrants or states like Colorado that allow recreational marijuana as examples of cities and states that defy federal law. He said Norman city leaders could consider making Norman a sanctuary city to protect unborn fetuses despite federal law regarding abortion.
"Babies are being murdered everyday, and we need to call our city council people to do something about this," he said.
"While we were still listening, we were just showing a clear protest that we were not going to engage in this conversation that had nothing to do with city business which is what we were elected to do," Scott said.
Dodson said his mission to address the council is part of a movement nationwide where other Christians are addressing their councils. Scott, on the other hand, iterated her support for a separation of church and state.
"A woman's relationship with her body is between her and God and probably a medical professional; it's not for any man to dictate," Scott told News 4. "So, when a man comes up here and speaks about A, something that’s not city business; B, trying to conflate church and state; and C, something that’s none of his business, we were very kind to turn around and stay quiet."
Dodson told News 4 he is not offended but wants to see city leaders be open to setting a policy that prevents abortions.
The tense meeting has a number of residents buzzing on social media, both discussing their stances on abortion as well as what they consider to be appropriate conduct for council members when constituents are speaking.
"You don’t have to turn your back; you don’t have to agree," Dodson said. "But, it's not necessary to do that."
Scott questions whether residents would be as fired up if she and Bierman were men.
"I absolutely didn't disrespect anybody, we are grown women and we will behave as we see fit," Scott said. "If people are asking me to not use my bodily autonomy to turn my chair when people are speaking disrespectfully to me, I would ask them to consider the behavior of your council members on social media, the council members who are blocking constituents. That's not listening at all. That's disrespectful."
Norman Mayor Lynne Miller closed out the meeting urging civility.
"[Constituents] have a right to expect a certain level of courtesy and decency in the way we treat everyone else," the mayor said. "We have an obligation to our public to be courteous and to be respectful and to listen, and I don’t think that's too much to ask."
Dodson said he plans to continue attending city council meetings and hopes to talk with city leaders about their options.