Councilors Shane Price (Place 1) and Weldon Hurt (Place 4) voted with Mayor Anthony Williams to pass the ordinance. Councilors Lynn Beard (Place 2), Donna Albus (Place 3), Kyle McAlister (Place 5), and Travis Craver (Place 6) voted to punt the ordinance to November.
McAlister made the initial motion to send the ordinance to the voters, which Craver seconded.
Supporters of the effort to ban abortion in Abilene called the motion unusual according to the city charter.
Instead of persuading the council to take up the ordinance and hoping for regular passage on the agenda — the same process that most other “sanctuaries” have followed — reluctance among city leadership prompted Mark Lee Dickson, founder of the “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn” initiative, and local activists to pursue passage through the citizen initiative process. This process, which differs slightly from town to town, lets the citizens require the council to take up an ordinance if they collect enough petition signatures. Then, the council may pass it or reject it. According to the Abilene city charter, if the council rejects it, then the ordinance automatically goes to a citywide vote.
Dickson said McAlister’s motion and the following vote were illegitimate.
“The city council had a choice. They could either pass the ordinance in the exact form proposed or they could not. They did not have the ability to send it to the ballot. They did not have three choices, they had two choices. And because they chose a choice that they did not have, that their city charter does not allow for them to have, the vote is illegitimate.”
State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) had appeared at the meeting to encourage the council to pass the ordinance.
“I hope you can do the right thing. You’ll be supported in it,” Perry said, noting that Lubbock is approaching the one-year mark since passing its own abortion ban last May.
Dorothy Clay, an Abilene resident running to replace Craver on the city council, also spoke in support.
“You do what you know you need to do,” Clay said. “Aren’t you tired of having innocent blood on your hands? You don’t have to do that anymore.”
Few citizens in the packed room testified against the ban, though one said unanimity at city hall would not necessarily spell smooth sailing afterward.
“They [citizens] may not come out and say that they’re against it. The problem is their lawyers may come out,” he quipped.
So far, the “sanctuaries” have enjoyed an unbroken record of success in court. Several of the first cities to adopt ordinances outlawing abortion resolved litigation with the American Civil Liberties Union over language referring to abortion funds as criminal organizations, and their ordinances remain effective. Lubbock also weathered a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood that the company dropped on appeal after it was dismissed in district court.
Abilene would have been the 44th city in Texas to join the “sanctuaries” initiative and pass an abortion ban, following the East Texas city of Marquez, which passed its own abortion ban on April 20.
All the Texas ordinances allow citizens to sue anybody that performs or aids an abortion in city limits. More recent ordinances have also allowed local authorities to punish violators directly if a state or federal court rules that the penalty would not unduly burden women’s abortion access. The mother herself cannot be sued or penalized, though she may sue.
However, not all of the ordinances are identical. Abilene’s ordinance would be one of the most comprehensive versions yet, authorizing lawsuits to punish the abortion of any unborn resident of Abilene regardless of where the abortion takes place.
Dickson and local pastor Scott Beard, who has played a leading role in the Abilene effort, said the council might have to take up the issue again at a future meeting due to the unusual nature of the vote.
Before voting to pass the ordinance, Price said it would be “inconsistent” for him to send it to a citywide election.
“I have identified myself as pro-life in private and public,” Price said.
“For me, it would be inconsistent to vote differently now than I would vote in November.”
Contrarily, councilman Beard said he would prefer to have the citizenry make the call.
“10 percent of the registered voters of Abilene have spoken. I want to hear the other 90 percent,” Beard said.
The Marquez ordinance is embedded below. It passed unanimously, making Marquez the fourth city in Leon County to join the initiative.
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