Today, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representing two pro-choice groups in the state — the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund and the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity — withdrew their lawsuit against seven Texas towns that had declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”
The ordinances passed in each of the cities effectively banned abortion by prohibiting abortion facilities from operating within city limits.
However, in their lawsuit, the ACLU’s focus was not on the public or private enforcement mechanisms that the ordinances established, but rather on the designation of organizations that assist women in receiving abortions as “criminal organizations.”
Since the lawsuit was filed in February, several of the cities have amended their original ordinances, removing the naming of any particular organizations as “criminal,” but preserving the explicit prohibition on abortion.
Upon the withdrawal of the lawsuit, the ACLU claimed “victory” in their legal pursuit.
“Our clients [the Lilith Fund and the TEA Fund], alongside countless other groups, are no longer named ‘criminal organizations’ in these cities,” wrote the ACLU of Texas in a tweet. “But local community members are the real winners; they won’t have to fear criminal prosecution for advocating for the right to abortion.”
The ACLU added, “These ordinances have never changed what is already fundamentally true, that abortion is legal not only in Texas but nationwide. Anti-abortion extremists pushed these unenforceable ordinances to mislead Texans about their rights and stigmatize abortion care.”
Similarly, the Lilith Fund declared victory.
“Y’all remember those towns that tried to ‘band abortion’ and say our work made was ‘criminal organizations?’ Yeah we sued and they backed down real quick,” they tweeted. “Take note. Abortion funds, providers, and advocates have the constitutional right to perform their work in these communities and everywhere!”
Any individual or organization that assists in an abortion within the cities’ limits will still be in violation of the ordinances and be liable for punishment.
Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas who drafted the ordinances, maintained that the dropping of the lawsuit was a “total and complete victory for the cities.”
“We said from the outset that there is no legal basis to challenge these ordinances, and they have been vetted by expert legal counsel. We’re pleased that the ACLU realized this and decided to withdraw its lawsuit,” said Dickson.
Texas Right to Life expressed similar applause at the outcome. “As expected, these strong and enforceable ordinances have successfully withstood legal scrutiny,” they stated. “Pro-Life Texans can continue to find encouragement in these citizens’ courageous commitment to stand up for the innocent pre-born children in their own communities, even and especially in the face of superficial legal challenges.”
Towns with current sanctuary city for the unborn ordinances in place include Waskom, Napels, Joaquin, Tenaha, Gilmer, Westbrook, Rusk, Colorado City, Gary, Big Spring, Wells, and Whiteface.
“This lawsuit was nothing but a publicity stunt to deter other cities from creating sanctuaries for the unborn,” Dickson said. “But it will end up having the opposite effect. Now even the ACLU acknowledges that there is no basis for challenging these ordinances, and this will embolden other cities and towns to join the sanctuary city for the unborn movement.”
Editor’s Note: A clarification has been added to note that organizations such as the TEA Fund and Lilith Fund can still be punished for assisting in abortions under the ordinances.
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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.