87th LegislatureLocal NewsThree More Texas Towns Ban Abortion in City Limits

The Panhandle town of Nazareth adopted the ordinance this morning, becoming the 36th town in Texas to outlaw abortion.
October 5, 2021
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Before the town of Impact joined the “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn” initiative, a group of mostly Texas towns that have banned abortion in city limits, the average “sanctuary” population was around 10,000.

Impact, just north of Abilene, has less than a hundred occupants.

Now the 35th and smallest “sanctuary” town in Texas, Impact’s population of less than 30 inhabitants singlehandedly shrank the average population from 10,000 to about 9,800. It followed the east Texas town of Brownsboro, the closest “sanctuary” to Tyler.

Brownsboro voted to outlaw abortion in city limits on August 16, and Impact voted September 11.

Nazareth is the most recent addition to the initiative. The Panhandle town of about 300 people adopted the ordinance this morning by a city council vote.

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The meager populations and zigzag jaunts across Texas haven’t deterred Mark Lee Dickson, the founder of the initiative who told The Texan after adding Lubbock to the list that he hadn’t seen his east Texas home in months.

Although Dickson aims for easy targets and the member towns trend small, the ordinance doesn’t always slip past the suspicion that he expects in bigger cities like Lubbock. The ordinance died for lack of a city council motion in Tulia, a town of just under 5,000 people, on September 14.

The threat of legal action often makes city officials from town to town leery of passing the ordinance. Even councilors and mayors that espouse pro-life beliefs have called the ordinance too legally dangerous, as in Cedar Park and Lubbock.

In fact, the City of Lubbock rejected the ordinance twice — first in a closed legal consultation, then in an open city council meeting — before over 60 percent of citizens voted to adopt it.

So far, member towns have weathered two major legal challenges.

The first came when the American Civil Liberties Union sued a group of “sanctuaries” in February 2020 for the ordinance’s wording but dropped the lawsuit later after the wording was changed.

The second, more substantial, came when Planned Parenthood sued Lubbock in a direct challenge to the ordinance’s legality. A federal judge dismissed the case for lack of standing, further writing that state law and federal jurisprudence appear to allow the ban. Planned Parenthood has not performed abortions in Lubbock since the ordinance took effect.

While the ordinances vary from town to town and have evolved over time, enforcement by civil lawsuits has remained the centerpiece. Citizens may sue anybody besides the mother herself for performing or aiding any abortion not meant to save the mother from death or serious bodily impairment. Government officials and employees cannot sue.

Unlike previous versions, the Nazareth ordinance bars fathers from suing if they conceived the aborted child by rape or incest, mirroring a provision in the Texas Heartbeat Act. The last Texas “sanctuaries” that did not include this provision were Levelland and Sundown, which adopted their ordinances in early June. State Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville), who sponsored the Heartbeat Act bill in the Texas House, added this provision to the law with an amendment in May.

While Dickson has made a routine of catching little fish, he has eyes on a few whales. He has pitched the ordinance three times to the City of San Angelo and tried, so far fruitlessly, to muster majority support in the city council of Odessa. He has also organized efforts in Abilene and Plainview.

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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.