Growing number of Texas cities and counties pass ‘Sanctuary for the Unborn’ ordinances
This report is part of the TPR series Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Evading the Texas Abortion Ban.
It was a full house in the Lubbock County Commissioners Court Monday, where for over an hour comments were offered about declaring Lubbock County off limits for anyone going to New Mexico for an abortion.
Like many of the speakers, Mary Hernandez supported the proposal to make the county a “Sanctuary for the Unborn.”
“Local laws reflect who we are as a society and what we stand for,” she said. “Unborn babies deserve the protection that government can and should offer.”
Another resident, Jim Baca, urged commissioners to support the ordinance “to stop the trafficking of babies from murder.”
“We can and do have laws against the sex trafficking of women, so when we're talking about abortion trafficking, we're talking about the same type of law,” he said.
“We are here to protect the babies,” said resident Kerry Shaw.
But there were also locals like Sarah Reed who spoke out against the proposal.
“The sanctuary city movement was an attempt by one group of people in Lubbock to impose their beliefs on the entire population of Lubbock,” she said.
Charlotte Dunham said she believes abortion should be legal.
“We have a constitution in this country and the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion,” she said.
The controversy also attracted interest from residents of New Mexico.
“What happens here in Texas directly affects us in New Mexico, and what we are now seeing is a 220% increase in one year of out-of-state abortions.”
David Gallegos, a New Mexico State Senator, said his state has become a destination for Texans with unwanted pregnancies.
“We're aborting about a thousand Texans in New Mexico every month. That's really trying for a small state of New Mexico,” he said. “We've got 2 million people statewide, and our system is just having such a hard time with all the penalties that come with this.”
To block Texas women from seeking abortion care in New Mexico, anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson founded the “Sanctuary for the Unborn” movement.
“No sheriff is going to be stopping people. We're not going to have mobile dolphin ultrasound units on roads or canines with ultrasound equipment attached to them. That's not what this is,” he told TPR.
Dickson said enforcement is going to depend on people filing civil lawsuits similar to how SB8, the Texas Heartbeat Act, is structured.
“Women can still go to New Mexico for abortions,” he said. “All we're saying in this ordinance is that anyone who would assist in that effort, we see that as aiding and abetting an abortion and we're going to stand against it.”
Elizabeth Sepper, a University of Texas law professor, said the ordinances are about intimidation.
“These laws have a significant chilling effect,” she said. “They strike fear into the hearts of people who are trying to leave the state for totally legal and medically appropriated abortions in other states where abortion is available.”
Sepper said telling people they can’t use a public road violates the right to travel that is protected in the U.S. Constitution.
“And so that means, in particular that states or localities are not permitted to restrict travel between states and, to some lesser extent, travel within states or within localities,” she said.
Sepper said that it’s wrong to compare going out of state for an abortion to human trafficking.
“Well, human trafficking is a crime. Having an abortion in New Mexico is not a crime. So there's one sort of central distinction,” she said. “But states aren't allowed to impose their criminal laws in ways that would prohibit travel between states.”
But that’s not going to stop Dickson from trying to get more sanctuary for the unborn ordinances passed.
“We are looking at the counties along the Texas-New Mexico border and also the counties along the Texas-Oklahoma border,” he said.
Dickson said abortion is a great moral evil and he’s going to do everything he can to outlaw it from coast to coast.
So far, he has passed ordinances in six towns and counties in Texas.