Waskom may not have been a widely known town a year ago, but it made history in June when it became the first municipality in Texas to pass an ordinance that effectively outlawed abortion.
Since then, several other Texas towns have followed in the footsteps of Waskom’s city council and have passed similar ordinances.
On Tuesday, February 25, two pro-choice activist organizations represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund and the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity — filed a lawsuit with a federal district court against seven of the cities.
“These ordinances are unconstitutional,” said Anjali Salvador, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, according to a press release. “Abortion is legal in every state and city in the country. Cities cannot punish pro-abortion organizations for carrying out their important work – especially when they do so in a way that violates the First Amendment.”
Pro-life advocates, though, are confident about the constitutionality of the ordinances.
“We are confident the Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinances will hold up in court,” said Texas Right to Life in a press release. “These communities have shown great courage in standing up against the abortion industry.”
Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, Rusk, Gary, and Wells were all included in the suit, while Colorado City, Westbrook, Gilmer, and Big Spring were left out.
“The right to access abortion is protected by the United States Constitution,” begins the suit, available below.
Their complaint isn’t focused on the abortion ban itself, which the ordinances provide will not be enforced by the city until Roe v. Wade is overruled.
Rather, the ACLU focuses the complaint on the ordinance’s designation of organizations that assist women in receiving abortions as “criminal organizations.”
The ordinances prohibit such organizations from operating within city limits — a prohibition that the ACLU says prevents them from “countering or clarifying the confusion created by the ordinances as to the legality of abortion services.”
The lawsuit claims that the ordinances violate the Constitution in five ways:
- They “suppress lawful speech about abortion and other reproductive healthcare.”
- They “discriminate against speech that has a pro-choice viewpoint.”
- They “restrict the rights of Plaintiffs and their staff to associate within and with individuals in these cities on issues of abortion and reproductive healthcare.”
- They “are unconstitutionally vague, failing to adequately describe the conduct that is prohibited. It is impossible for a person to know how to abide by the law.”
- And lastly, “by declaring Plaintiffs to be criminal and prohibiting them from operating within the cities, the ordinances unconstitutionally punish them through the legislative process, without a trial.”
Pro-life advocates argue that the ordinances are perfectly constitutional and have called the lawsuit “baseless.”
“In passing the ordinance, cities acted within their constitutional rights to self-governance and within the scope of current U.S. Supreme Court abortion jurisprudence,” said Texas Right to Life. “The ordinance language is solid and carefully drafted in expectation of the abortion industry filing a lawsuit. This lawsuit is baseless, selectively targeting smaller cities that have passed the ordinance, and filed by abortion advocacy organizations that cover for the real culprit: abortion businesses, which are evidently unwilling to join the lawsuit themselves.”
Texas Right to Life noted how local pro-life residents stood against opposition to the ordinances in their city halls and said that they look forward to “standing alongside these brave cities.”
While some — such as the city council members of Carthage who recently rejected the ordinance — have capitulated to the threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU, many others that have become part of the local movement seem likely to be undaunted.
“Will the ACLU or some other radical body sue?” asked one speaker to the city council of Big Spring last month. “Perhaps. I will say, however, that we will be on the wrong side of history if the threat of lawsuits leads us back to the comfort of our own homes.”
Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas that has led the charge in supporting the ordinance, echoed the sentiment of Texas Right to Life, calling ACLU’s lawsuit “meritless.”
“We have a legal team ready to defend these ordinances at no charge to the cities, and we are prepared to defend all other cities that enact these laws at no charge to the taxpayers,” Dickson said in a statement to The Texan. “We are eager to defend these ordinances in court. With the new membership on the Supreme Court, we welcome court challenges to abortion laws that will weaken and lead to the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade.”
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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.