Local NewsGrapeland Becomes 18th ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn’ in Texas

The ordinance holds the abortion provider — not the mother — liable to the living relatives of the aborted child.
January 26, 2021
The city council of Grapeland, Texas voted last night to outlaw abortion within city limits. While the most recent towns to pass the ordinance have voted unanimously, Grapeland’s vote was four in favor of the ordinance with one abstaining. The vote makes Grapeland the 18th “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” in Texas.

No citizen or member of the city council spoke against the ordinance.

“It is considered murder to kill someone who has a heartbeat, DNA, fingerprints, and the ability to dream. A human fetus has all these things too,” Mayor Mitchell Woody said.

“So why is abortion not considered murder? We have taken a stance today to say abortion is murder and our city will not allow it within our city limits.”

Legally, the ordinance cites swaths of Texas code that still outlaw abortion despite the state’s “temporary inability to prosecute,” and asserts that it “shall be unlawful” for someone to “knowingly aid or abet an abortion” in Grapeland.

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“The Supreme Court’s pronouncements in Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases may limit the ability of State officials to impose penalties on those who violate the Texas abortion statutes,” reads the document, “but they do not veto or erase the statutes themselves, which continue to exist as the law of Texas until they are repealed by the legislature that enacted them.”

The ordinance also states that although the courts have paused the state’s ability to prosecute abortions, that “does not change the fact that abortion is still defined as a criminal act under Texas law.”

Specifically crafted to skirt the “undue burden” standard, the law does not target the mother. It allows the city to fine those who carry out the procedure and empowers the relatives of the unborn child to sue them. While such lawsuits can take place immediately, the city cannot levy fines unless certain conditions are met: the fine will not create an undue burden on women seeking abortions; or, the accused lacks standing to assert the third-party rights of abortion-seekers in court; or, the Supreme Court overturns relevant case law like Roe v. Wade.

“The ordinance is clear that these fines cannot be imposed unless it is determined that the individual seeking to impose the penalty upon the one who committed the unlawful act will not create an ‘undue burden’ on women seeking abortions, the person, corporation, or entity who committed the unlawful act of abortion lacks standing to assert the third-party rights of women seeking abortions in court, or Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is overturned,” explained Mark Lee Dickson, founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative.

Former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell has agreed to represent Grapeland pro bono in the event of a lawsuit. Previously, Mitchell represented a group of seven “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn” when a pair of pro-choice groups sued them. The pro-choice groups and the towns both claimed victory after a slight tweaking of the ordinance’s wording undercut the basis for the lawsuit. To date, it has remained the only legal challenge these cities have faced.

That might change if the citizens of Lubbock approve the ordinance in an election this May since the west Texas city would be the first “sanctuary” with a Planned Parenthood in city limits. Nonetheless, supporters of the ordinance remain optimistic; a coalition of Texas attorneys co-signed a letter pointing out that Roe v. Wade only prevents the enforcement of anti-abortion laws, not their enactment.

“There is no Texas law that prevents municipalities from regulating or prohibiting abortion, and the analysis posted on the city’s website does not identify or cite any such Texas law,” the lawyers’ letter to Lubbock reads.

The Lubbock City Council initially shrunk away from the ordinance, citing a brief analysis by a Houston law firm calling it unconstitutional. When a petition forced the council to a vote, the marathon meeting ended with most of the members voicing their support for pro-life policies before unanimously voting the ordinance down. Now, citizens of Lubbock will have a chance to vote the proposal into law this May.

The cities that have passed these ordinances tend to cluster at the east and west poles of the state, shy of the I-35 corridor. So far, Grapeland has edged the closest to the Texas triangle of major urban clusters. The town of 1,500 sits on U.S. 287 in Houston County, itself a stone’s throw from I-45.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.

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