On May 28, 2024, the City Council of Amarillo received the results of a successful citizen initiative petition for a Sanctuary City for the Unborn (SCFTU) ordinance further prohibiting abortion within the City of Amarillo. The petition contained about 10,400 signatures. Of that number about 6,400 signatures were determined to be valid signatures, while 4,000 signatures were declared to be invalid. The valid number of signatures required by the Amarillo City Charter in order for the petition to be declared successful was five percent of the registered voters living in the City of Amarillo, which the city determined to be 4,888. The citizen initiative petition, which began on December 29, 2023 and was turned in on April 25, 2024, had earned the right to be considered by the Mayor and City Council of the City of Amarillo.   

While many believed the 18-page citizen initiative petition ordinance containing about 10,400 signatures should have had the full attention and focus of the Mayor and City Council, Mayor Cole Stanley appeared to see it necessary for his own one-and-a-half page alternative ordinance to be much of the focus of the discussion. Upon hearing of the alternative ordinance, Amarillo SCFTU Initiating Committee Member and Amarillo Area Young Republicans President Jacob Meyer shared, “I looked back in the Amarillo City Charter and nowhere in the Citizen Initiative petition process does it give the Mayor or anyone else on the City Council the ability to propose an alternative ordinance as a part of the discussion. This kind of action does not respect the process outlined by the Amarillo City Charter, is unbecoming of the type of leadership expected of our Mayor, and is ignoring the voice of the over 10,000 residents of Amarillo who signed this petition.”  Many in attendance did not even realize, until after the council meeting, how vastly different the two ordinances were treated. While the Mayor’s proposed alternative ordinance was given a thorough read-through and explanation section-by-section, the SCFTU Ordinance was not given the same treatment. 

The Sanctuary City for the Unborn Initiative Petition Ordinance  

During public comment regarding the SCFTU Initiative Petition Ordinance, many spoke for and against the proposed ordinance. Among those who spoke in favor of the ordinance was Jana May, head of the Initiating Committee and the immediate past president of the High Plains Republican Women. May began her comment by reading from three platform planks that had been passed by delegates at the Texas Republican Party of Texas 2024 Convention in San Antonio over the past weekend. 

Sanctuary City for the Unborn Initiating Committee members John Barrett, Jana May, and Steve Austin address the Mayor and City Council.

The first plank shared by May read: 

Pro-Life: Until the abolition of abortion is achieved, we support… the right of Texas municipalities to protect mothers and their preborn children in their communities by passing enforceable city ordinances that further ban abortions within their city limits, closing loopholes in state abortion laws.

The second plank shared by May read: 

Pro-Life: Until the abolition of abortion is achieved, we support… Extend[ing] the private cause of action used in the Texas Heartbeat Act to all pro-life laws and policies in Texas.

Last, but not least, the third and final plank shared by May read: 

Prohibit Abortion Transportation Across State Lines: We support legislation to prohibit the use of any government funds, as well as the transportation of pregnant women across Texas’ state lines for the purpose of procuring an elective abortion and for the provision of a private right of action against all persons and organizations who aid and abet in the harming of the woman and the killing of her preborn child.

Looking straight at Mayor Stanley and Councilman Tom Scherlen, May shared,”Cole and Tom, you were endorsed by the Republican Party of Texas, so I know that you are Republicans.” She then singled out Councilman Scherlen, stating, “Tom, you told me twice if we got the number necessary of petitions, which we did, that you would support the ordinance because you would consider it a mandate of the people. I want to say to you that I hope that you are a man of your word.” 

Sanctuary City for the Unborn Initiating Committee member Martha Sell encourages the Mayor and City Council to pass the ordinance outlawing abortion and abortion trafficking.

Throughout the night, references were made to a letter written in August 2023 in support of the passage of local ordinances prohibiting abortion trafficking signed by Republican Senators and Representatives across the State of Texas.

That letter stated: 

While it is true that abortion is outlawed in the entire State of Texas, from the point of conception, our work is far from over. Right now, throughout the State of Texas, women are being trafficked across our borders by abortion traffickers funded by abortion trafficking organizations still operating in our state. As a result, these women are being abused and traumatized by abortion across our Texas-New Mexico border and sent back to Texas for our cities and counties to deal with the aftermath taking place in our homes, our schools, our churches, and our hospitals. 


The Sanctuary for the Unborn ordinances seek to protect these institutions by putting safeguards in place to protect men, women, and their children for years to come.” The letter continues, “These ordinances, which seek to close as many loopholes as possible, do not penalize women who seek or undergo abortions, but places the penalty on the party who most deserves it — the abortionist and the industry profiting from the unjust procedure, including abortion traffickers. 


While we intend to do our part to keep our strong pro-life protections for mothers and their unborn children, we believe it will help for cities and counties to do their part as well. As state elected officials who are trusted by Pro-Life Texans to stand for life at every available opportunity, we believe this is a viable and crucial opportunity for local governments to protect their most vulnerable members. We look forward to partnering with you as we seek to defend innocent human life at every level of government.

Other letters supporting the ordinance were also sent to Amarillo’s leadership from a variety of different organizations. Among these groups was the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), an organization that exists to protect life-affirming pregnancy centers targeted by pro-abortion groups and legislation. A letter from President and Founder Tom Glessner also echoed his support for the ordinance. Glessner, whose organization provides legal support for Hope Choice Pregnancy Center in Amarillo, wrote, 

NIFLA fully supports the proposed Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance which was brought forth by the citizen initiative petition. While the pre-Roe v. Wade Statutes, the Texas Heartbeat Act, and the Human Life Protection Act have all made a great impact in reducing abortions and empowering mothers to choose life, there is still work to be done in Texas.


Under the laws of the State of Texas, it is not illegal for an abortion to be performed on a Texas resident outside the State of Texas. And, under the laws of the State of Texas, it is not illegal for someone to drive a Texas resident to get an abortion outside the State of Texas. Every day, pregnant mothers are being driven across state lines for the purpose of obtaining a legal abortion. Every day, unborn children are losing their lives. This ordinance attempts to close some of these loopholes by prohibiting abortions performed on residents of Amarillo across state lines and by prohibiting the abortion trafficking of unborn children across state lines.

Texas Right to Life, the oldest and largest pro-life organization in the State of Texas, also echoed their support. In his letter to the Mayor and City Council, Texas Right To Life President Dr. John Seago wrote, 

We urge you to pass the ordinance language supported by over 10,000 citizens of Amarillo that will serve as an effective and enforceable policy to save lives, disrupt illegal activity from pro-abortion organizations, and stand strong for all innocent human life. As proven in other cities, the recommended language from the Initiating Committee is legally prudent and enforceable.

In addition to these letters, Amarillo’s Mayor and City Council received a letter from Alliance for a Safe Texas, a statewide organization combating trafficking throughout the State of Texas, and a letter from Najvar Law Firm, an aggressive law firm out of Houston, Texas representing the Amarillo SCFTU Initiating Committee. 

The Alternative Ordinance

Of course, the proposed SCFTU Ordinance was not supported by everyone. Speaking to the Amarillo Reproductive Freedom Alliance, an organization that has been one of the loudest voices in opposition to the citizen initiative petition ordinance, Mayor Stanley said, “I’ve told you I wouldn’t move on this as written, and I am going to hold firm on that.” Mayor Stanley then introduced his alternative ordinance, a one-and-a-half page ordinance listed as Agenda Item 9.H., “Discussion and Possible Consideration of an Alternative Proposed Ordinance Protecting Human Life by Adding State-Adopted Abortion Related Restrictions and Prohibitions to the Amarillo Municipal Code.” The ordinance claims that it would amend the Amarillo Municipal Code by “adding the state-adopted abortion-related restrictions and prohibitions found in Chapters 170A, 171, and 697” of the Texas Health and Safety Code. 

Mayor Stanley stated, “These are the loopholes that you guys are telling us we are not paying attention to.” Mayor Stanley called the proposed SCFTU Ordinance a “gross overreach in some people’s opinion” and called it an “unenforceable, uninvestigatable ordinance.” Expressing his opinion, he said, “It is going to get us sued.” After reading the alternative ordinance, Mayor Stanley stated, “It says what it says. State law is already enacted. The State of Texas is a ‘Sanctuary State.’ We don’t have the authority or jurisdiction to legislate laws in New Mexico or any other state. We are not going to get there by restricting your travel down the road, but if we put this in and you choose not to amend and you put yours on the ballot and it fails, you still have an ordinance here that does everything we can do to protect life to the utmost of our responsibility.” 

Directing his statements to the Amarillo SCFTU Initiating Committee, Mayor Stanley continued, “This has a repealer and so does yours, which means we could pass this today, we could amend yours and pass it tomorrow and this goes away. This in no way harms you, unless you go to the ballot.” Mayor Stanley concluded, “In my opinion, if you go to the ballot it is going to be more difficult for you to explain to voters why you would need to pass another ordinance when the city council spent a nine hour marathon here passing this one.”

At this point Mayor Stanley shared that they had allotted time for several individuals to address the City Council. Those individuals were slated to be (1) members of the Amarillo Reproductive Freedom Alliance, (2) Amanda Zurawski, lead plaintiff in the case Zurawski v. the State of Texas, (3) Hope Choice Pregnancy Center’s Executive Director Candy Gibbs, and (4) members of the SCFTU Initiating Committee. Due to weather conditions, Zurawski – who had sued the State of Texas over the Human Life Protection Act – was not able to catch her flight to Amarillo. As a result, a letter was read on her behalf against the proposed SCFTU Citizen Initiative Petition Ordinance. The focus of her attack on the ordinance, like Mayor Stanley’s, was the provision prohibiting abortion trafficking. 

Unlike the others who had been invited to speak, the Amarillo Citizen Initiative Committee felt unprepared and caught off guard by some of Mayor Stanley’s actions – with some feeling deeply disturbed that those against the citizen initiative petition seemed to have a better idea of what was going on than those who had labored for months to bring the citizen initiative petition into fruition. Amarillo SCFTU Initiating Committee member Peggy Carter Thomas shared, “Most disturbing to me was that more special unlimited time to speak was given to those opposed to the ordinance. It just did not feel right that, to my knowledge, no one on the committee was offered an extended time to speak on behalf of our petition. We were only given the usual three minutes during the public address.” 

The last speaker for the night was Candy Gibbs, the Executive Director of Hope Choice Pregnancy Center. Gibbs began her public statement, “Hope Choice and I, as an individual, made the decision many months ago, not to make any kind of public statement. It was our belief that our role was to continue to serve real women in Amarillo as they make decisions about life and death. We have worked very hard to maintain this posture. It has not been easy to do and, at this point, it is impossible.” Gibbs shared three major objections with the proposed SCFTU Ordinance. Her first objection had to deal with the only resource listed in the ordinance being one that sends people to government-funded agencies that “claim to be pro-life” but they “receive payment from the government.”

Hope Choice Pregnancy Center Executive Director Candy Gibbs speaks against the Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance outlawing abortion trafficking.

Gibbs shared: 

One of my biggest concerns with this petition from jump is that the only resource you list is a website that sends you to government funded agencies. These agencies claim to be pro-life, but they receive payment from the government for every diaper they give out, when they give out formula, classes, every interaction that they have with a girl. And because they receive government dollars, they cannot share faith, they cannot share hope, they cannot share the truth about the plans and purposes that Jesus might have for her life. But they are also benefiting from the dire situation that this woman faces and that is who we put on the petition. So praise God that we are considering adding Hope Choice or places like it to this petition! 

The website link in the ordinance criticized by Gibbs, is the website for the Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN). One place recommended by TPCN is Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, which funds the program known as Joseph’s Project. Upon hearing Gibbs’ publicly stated concern, Texas Pregnancy Care Network’s Executive Director Nicole Neeley found that it was needed to set the record straight.

Neeley shared: 

The Texas Thriving Families Program sets out that it promotes childbirth as an alternative to abortion, and all the organizations we contract with do so by providing counseling, classes, material assistance, and referrals supporting eligible clients through pregnancy and up to 36 months postpartum. Not every interaction an organization in our network has with a client falls under the scope of the program, and therefore organizations in our network do not receive payment for every interaction they have with a client. While organizations can give clients material assistance, they cannot receive payment for doing so unless the client also receives counseling or classes that benefit their pregnancy or parenting situation. Furthermore, we limit the amount of material assistance an organization in our network can give to a client. Therefore, not every diaper or case of formula qualifies for a payment in our network.


Lastly, we work with many organizations that can and do provide spiritual counseling, although they must seek the client’s consent and keep those services separate from government funded services as is required by our contract with the state. We have over 180 locations across the state of Texas that report they do so much more for clients than what they receive payments for and that receiving payments under this program does not get in the way of serving their clients but helps them flourish as organizations so they can help Texas families thrive.

Gibbs’ second issue with the SCFTU Ordinance had to deal with the prohibition on abortion trafficking. Gibbs shared, “I am not in line with telling people where they can and cannot drive their cars.” 

Gibbs’ third issue was the lack of a specific exception in the SCFTU Ordinance’s enforcement mechanism, the same enforcement mechanism found in the Texas Heartbeat Act and in 58 city and county ordinances across the state of Texas. Gibbs shared, “I am certainly not in line with encouraging people to bring private right of action against parents and grandparents. Someone bringing a private right of action against a parent or a grandparent of a young woman who has already experienced the devastation of abortion does not save a life. The life has already been lost, but you will simply be compounding the trauma.” 

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which has saved over 10,000 lives, makes no exceptions for parents and grandparents who help their daughters or granddaughters obtain abortions upon children with detectable heartbeats. While Gibbs “applauded” the Texas Heartbeat Act in her speech, she made no comment on whether or not she was in agreement with the law which allows a private right of action to be brought against anyone, including parents and grandparents, aiding or abetting an abortion performed on a child with a detectable heartbeat. 

Gibbs concluded her speech, in support of Mayor Stanley’s alternative ordinance, stating, “Mayor Stanley’s ordinance contains three things that I fully support, in addition to state law: No abortions in the city limits of Amarillo, no disposal of fetal remains being transported here from other states, no abortion pill in the city limits, and declaring Amarillo to be a ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn.’” Speaking of Mayor Stanley’s alternative ordinance, Gibbs shared, “I stand behind our Mayor and this proposed ordinance and its wording wholeheartedly.”

Such a statement caused several on the initiating committee to question whether Gibbs was speaking of a different ordinance — as Mayor Stanley’s alternative ordinance did not do any of the four things that Candy Gibbs claimed that it would do. Amarillo SCFTU Initiating Committee member Steve Austin shared, “The last time I checked, Mayor Cole Stanley is not the one who collected about 10,400 signatures in support of his ordinance. That was us. Yet our proposed ordinance was not the focus of Tuesday’s meeting.”

Amarillo SCFTU Initiating Committee Member John Barrett said he was in full agreement with Attorney Jared Najvar’s view of the alternative ordinance. Najvar called the alternative ordinance “an unnecessary and meaningless distraction from the discussion regarding the Sanctuary City ordinance supported by over 10,000 residents and voters in the City of Amarillo.” 

In his letter to the Mayor and City Council, Najvar shared, “Mayor Stanley’s ordinance claims to protect human life by ‘amending the Amarillo Municipal Code to add State-adopted abortion-related restrictions and prohibitions’ but does not accomplish anything more than State law already accomplishes, raising the understandable question whether the City Council wants to simply appear to be strongly pro-life – by meaninglessly regurgitating provisions already in state law and repeating something the Council itself has already said through a resolution approved years ago – or whether it wants to actually do something.” 

Texas Right To Life President Dr. John Seago’s words about Mayor Stanley’s alternative ordinance were just as strong. In his letter to the Mayor and City Council, Dr. Seago wrote, “the ‘Alternative Proposed Ordinance’ is completely meaningless and will do absolutely nothing to protect Life or stop the new deadly tactics being used by abortion businesses and organizations in Texas and New Mexico. The ‘Alternative Proposed Ordinance’ is merely a reiteration of current state Pro-Life laws, which could be achieved by a non-binding ceremonial resolution or a press conference. The ‘Alternative Proposed Ordinance’ does not contain a single Pro-Life policy nor does it honor the thousands of Amarillo citizens who worked diligently to bring this issue to the attention of the Mayor and City Council. The adoption of the alternative ordinance will set a negative precedent for other Texas cities.” Dr. Seago concluded his letter stating, “Please oppose the ‘Alternative Proposed Ordinance’ and pass the ordinance language presented by the Initiating Committee for the Amarillo SCFTU petition. The Initiating Committee’s language contains effective policies and enforcement tools to fill in the gaps left from Texas’ state Pro-Life laws.” 

In accordance with the Amarillo City Charter, the Mayor and City Council have thirty days from when the signatures were presented to the City Council to take final action on the citizen initiative petition. The city council’s next meeting is scheduled for June 11, 2024. If the Mayor and City Council reject the ordinance supported by over 10,000 residents of Amarillo, the Initiative Committee has the opportunity to force the ordinance onto the ballot for the November 2024 election. 

This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com.

Mark Lee Dickson

Mark Lee Dickson is a director with Right to Life of East Texas and the founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative.