Local residents with pro-life activist Mark Lee Dickson officially began the process on Sunday.
According to the Athens city charter, citizens can require the city council to consider an ordinance if they collect petition signatures of at least 15 percent of the city’s qualified voters. Then the city council can pass the ordinance or send it to the voters in a citywide election.
Pastor Erick Graham of Sand Springs Baptist Church has a leading role in the effort. He could not be reached for comment.
Notably, Athens was a hotspot for abortions in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade when elective abortions were banned in Texas. Physician and former Henderson County health officer Curtis Boyd performed thousands of abortions in Athens during the 1960s and 70s, according to a testimony he offered in a lawsuit that challenged a recent Texas abortion law.
The proposed ordinance observes this history at the outset of the text.
“The City Council is appalled that these violent and criminal acts occurred within city boundaries,” the findings section reads.
If passed, the ordinance would ban the abortion of any “unborn resident” of Athens, even if the abortion were to take place outside city limits. To enforce this, the ordinance would create a private right of action, authorizing lawsuits against anybody that “violates or intends to violate” it.
It also allows local authorities to directly prosecute violators, but only if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade, a court rules that the penalty would not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions, or a court decides that the violator lacks third-party standing to assert the rights of women seeking abortions.
The ordinance would also make abortifacient drugs contraband and prohibit abortion coverage in employer health insurance.
The mother of the aborted child would not face prosecution or penalties.
The last Texas town to outlaw abortion locally was Normangee in May.
Voters in San Angelo, Abilene, and Plainview will see an ordinance to ban abortion on the ballot this November. Lindale, another East Texas town, also went through the initiative process but passed its own ordinance in March instead of sending it to a general vote.
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