“It’s a problem. It’s a growing epidemic. It’s something that we think is not just going to stop in East Texas. We expect it to move to other parts of the state,” said Drucilla Tigner, a political strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas.
Tigner led a webinar — in affiliation with several progressive advocacy groups in Texas — to rally pro-choice activists to challenge local ordinances some towns in Texas are passing to become “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”
This week, her expectation was realized. The town of Westbrook, located about halfway between Abilene and Midland, passed an ordinance to become such a “sanctuary,” the seventh city in Texas to do so.
In June, the city council of Waskom became the first in Texas to pass an ordinance effectively outlawing abortion within city limits.
Sitting along the Texas-Louisiana border near Shreveport, Waskom has a population of a little over 2,000 and no abortion providers.
When the state of Louisiana passed some strong pro-life bills into law, many citizens in Waskom became concerned that the abortion facility in Shreveport might be closed down and Planned Parenthood might try to open a so-called “clinic” in their town.
To keep any from opening, the city council passed an ordinance that prohibits abortions from being committed within city limits.
The “sanctuary cities for the unborn” initiative was spearheaded by Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas.
Since then, concerned citizens in other communities have reached out to Dickson and he has worked with them to prompt their city councils to take action.
Most of these communities have been in rural, strongly Republican areas where voters are exceptionally pro-life.
At the urging of their city attorney, though, the council in Omaha walked back the ordinance and passed a resolution instead.
Whereas a resolution is an expression of the city council’s sentiment, the ordinance actually makes the measure part of the city code — something that can be enforced.
For example, the ordinance that passed in Westbrook on Monday night has two enforcement mechanisms: a public enforcement mechanism and a private enforcement mechanism.
The public mechanism penalizes the abortionist — and those found aiding or abetting the abortionist in ways like paying for the abortion or transporting the mother to it — $2,000 per abortion.
“While it is true that this public enforcement cannot be enforced until Roe v. Wade is overturned, that does not mean that the penalties do not exist,” Dickson told The Texan. “The penalties will keep stacking up until Roe v. Wade is overturned. At that point, those penalties will come crashing down on the abortionist [and those aiding and abetting the abortionist] as long as the abortion happened within the city limits of Westbrook.”
The private mechanism, on the other hand, does not need to wait for the overturn of Roe v. Wade to be enforced.
The Westbrook ordinance allows any family member on the mother’s or father’s side — the father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, or cousins — to sue the abortionist for the death of the unborn child.
“If the abortion industry is not phased by the threat of future enforcement, it should be phased by the threat of immediate lawsuits from the family members of the unborn child that they have killed,” said Dickson.
It’s those kinds of enforcement mechanisms that worry the pro-choice advocacy groups.
Tigner of the ACLU of Texas said, “While it’s not being enforced technically, it still could potentially be enforced any minute, so it’s a problem.”
Planned Parenthood has taken steps to target West Texas by raising a number of billboards promoting its digital app, which provides information on where to access abortion-inducing drugs.
Texas Right to Life is concerned that the billboards are a signal that the organization wants to reestablish a significant presence in West Texas after their last abortion facility in Abilene closed in 2012.
Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood received a $9 million dollar grant to open two facilities in West Texas by the spring of 2020.
Given the potentiality of a new abortion facility opening in the region, other cities in the area might be passing ordinances like the one in Westbrook soon.
Dickson says he has spoken with people in Abilene, Lamesa, Colorado City, Eastland, Cisco, Rising Star, and Big Spring and has “not met one person who wants to see an abortion clinic open in their city.”
Big Spring in particular — a town of about 27,000 — is set to proceed in discussing an ordinance at their meeting on December 10, 2019.
“As a longtime believer in the right to life for the unborn, I look forward to bringing the anti-abortion ordinance to the council at our next meeting,” said Mayor Shannon Thomason according to the Big Spring Herald.
But as the “sanctuary cities for the unborn” initiative continues to gain traction, it’s bound to meet opposition from the pro-choice activists who see it as a threat and are adamantly opposed to it.
“Their movement doesn’t really stand on values. And you only have to see who’s passing these ordinances or introducing them,” said Delma Catalina Limones, the communications manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in the previously mentioned webinar. “It’s usually — there was a picture that [Tigner] shared — it’s like old white men.”
How effective the pro-choice groups are in opposing the new ordinances and the “old white men” who are passing them — not to mention the many women city councilors who have supported the ordinances — is yet to be seen.
Ordinances declaring “sanctuary cities for the unborn” could start picking up traction in the same way that county resolutions to become “Second Amendment sanctuaries” have gained tremendous momentum in recent weeks.
A copy of the Westbrook ordinance is embedded below.
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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.