Exactly one year after the Texas town of Waskom passed the first “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” ordinance to prevent abortion providers from operating within city limits, several abortion advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the pro-life organization that has led the effort in helping other towns across the state passing similar ordinances.
The lead plaintiff, the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, claims in the petition that Right to Life of East Texas and the pro-life organization’s director, Mark Lee Dickson, have defamed the abortion advocacy groups by calling them “criminal organizations.”
As compensation for the alleged defamation, the pro-choice groups seek $200,000 to $1 million in monetary relief.
The lawsuit from the Lilith Fund was filed in Travis County and another corresponding lawsuit from other abortion advocacy groups was filed in Dallas County, though Dickson and his organization are located in East Texas.
Prior to the lawsuit, the organizations had been involved in another lawsuit — led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — against several of the cities that had passed the pro-life ordinances.
The ACLU lawsuit relied on the argument that the ordinances violated the First Amendment by specifically naming certain abortion advocacy groups as “criminal organizations.”
They withdrew the lawsuit at the end of May after the towns amended the ordinances to no longer name specific organizations as criminal, though those organizations can still be held liable for assisting with abortions within city limits.
“Despite what Dickson and Right to Life East Texas have said about us or abortion rights in Texas — helping people seeking abortion care is not against the law,” stated the Lilith Fund.
“When elected officials have failed Texans, abortion funds have served as trusted resources for people seeking abortion care,” they continued. “There’s nothing criminal about helping people access essential health care with love and compassion.”
The pro-choice organization argues that Dickson’s “defamatory characterization” in calling them “criminal” is “dangerous and damaging to the health and safety of Texans seeking abortion care.”
Dickson said that he stands by his comments, maintaining he has “no reason to retract” what he said.
“Abortion is the murder of innocent unborn human beings,” said Dickson. “The Lilith Fund and other abortion-aiding organizations all take part in the murder of innocent unborn human beings.”
“The statements which I have made are rooted not in my own imagination,” added Dickson, “but in the law written on all of our hearts, in the Constitution of the United States of America, in the Texas Constitution, and in the laws of the great State of Texas.”
He pointed to a 1961 Texas Penal Code statute which holds anyone who “furnishes the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended” as criminally liable.
The particular statute was one of several challenged in Roe v. Wade.
While the Supreme Court in the case ruled that the Texas laws criminalizing abortion were unconstitutional, Dickson points out that the Texas legislature has never actually repealed the law, despite some failed attempts.
“What many people do not realize is the fact that neither Roe v. Wade nor any other decision by the Supreme Court ‘struck down’ or revoked the Pre-Roe statutes which criminalized abortion,” said Dickson in a statement. “Until these statutes are repealed by the Legislature that enacted them, they are still the law of the State of Texas.”
By his arguments, the ruling from the federal court does not “automatically erase that law,” but only prevents the state from enforcing it in a manner “that contradicts the court’s interpretation of the Constitution.”
“The Supreme Court is not the supreme law of the land,” said Dickson. “According to the Constitution, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It would do us all well to keep that in mind.”
Several attorneys will be representing Dickson and Right to Life of East Texas: former Solicitor General of Texas Jonathan Mitchell, State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and Washington, DC attorney Stephen Klein.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.