Lunacy in New Hanover County

Lunacy in New Hanover County

- in Fitzsimon File

If you are looking for an indicator of how reactionary the political debate has become, you don’t have to consider just the Saturday Night Live skit that is the Republican presidential primary battle.

Just check out what’s happening in New Hanover County.

Monday the county’s five-member Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to turn down a grant from the state that would have funded family planning services for women.

The Wilmington Star-News reports that Board Chair Ted Davis called it a sad day when “taxpayers are asked to pay money to buy contraceptives,” and if women were “responsible people and didn’t haven’t sex to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Apparently only women who have sex are irresponsible in Davis’ and Rush Limbaugh’s view of things. And it also must mean that any married couples who use any forms of birth control are loathsome creatures too. No place for it in Davis’ Neanderthal world. No room for planning a family either.

Exactly what year is it?

The paper reports that Commissioner Jonathan Barfield (all five commissioners are men) voted with Davis, saying he was “one of those abstinence guys.” That’s a statement that raises questions probably more appropriately asked in another venue.

The decision sparked outrage in Wilmington and beyond. The state chapter of the ACLU blasted the vote, pointing out that many low-income women don’t have reliable access to contraception and that the grant would have provided medical care they can’t afford.

Barfield later had second thoughts and told a Wilmington television station that after talking to his wife he would change his vote and wanted the board to reconsider its decision to turn down the grant. Barfield said the grant could help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

It sounds like his wife ought to be on the board.

The rest of the commissioners remain not only unapologetic, but arrogant. WECT-TV caught up with four of them Tuesday night at en event sponsored by the local contractors association and two refused to talk on camera. One, Rick Caitlin, said he was off duty and had no comment.

He was on duty enough to attend an event as a county commissioner but not on duty enough to talk to the media about a decision he made to deny health care to women that he represents.

The most startling thing about this bizarre story might be that it’s not that startling at all, given the national debate about contraception and the statements by Republican Rick Santorum questioning even prenatal care as somehow offensive.

A commenter on the Star-News website offered what has become the far-right talking point on the issue, espoused by politicians like U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.

“…people do have the right under the first amendment to not allow there (sic) money to be used for purposes they seem immoral. It is about the government having its proper place in our country.”

The fundamentalists want to frame this as a test of religious freedom, that their view that any family planning is an abomination must be the law of the land or they are being oppressed.


This is about basic health care for women and their families and their ability to make decisions about reproduction, not some fundamentalist religious doctrine.

And the last time I looked, we still lived in a democracy. But I am starting to wonder.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.