On Tuesday, June 11, 2024, Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley and the Amarillo City Council voted to reject an amended Sanctuary City for the Unborn (SCFTU) ordinance in a 4 to 1 vote, with only Councilman Don Tipps voting in favor of adopting the amended ordinance. Following the vote, a motion was made to reject the unamended SCFTU Ordinance in another 4 to 1 vote, with only Councilman Don Tipps voting in favor of adopting the original ordinance.

After the Mayor and City Council cast their votes rejecting the ordinances, several pro-abortion individuals and local, statewide, and national organizations celebrated the defeat of the pro-life ordinances, including: former Amarillo Planned Parenthood Director Claudia Stavato, Elevated Access pilot Dr. Frederick Poage, Amarillo Reproductive Freedom Alliance, United States Representative Colin Allred (TX-32, who is currently running against Senator Ted Cruz for Senate), the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Jane’s Due Process, Mayday Health, and Women’s March.

On Wednesday, June 19, 2024, U.S. Representative Allred even hosted a virtual discussion on Restoring Texas Women’s Freedom with Amarillo Reproductive Freedom Alliance and Dallas OBGYN Dr. Austin Dennard—who was one of the plaintiffs of Zurawski v. State of Texas.  

On Friday, June 28, 2024, all eleven members of the Amarillo SCFTU Citizen Initiative Petition Initiating Committee unanimously voted for the unamended SCFTU Ordinance to be placed on the November 2024 ballot for the citizens of Amarillo to adopt or reject the ordinance. Late that night, a letter was sent to City Secretary Stephanie Coggins expressing the desire of the Initiating Committee. 

On Saturday, June 29, 2024, City Secretary Stephanie Coggins sent a response to Initiating Committee member Steve Austin expressing her plans to present it to the City Council at their next meeting on July 9, 2024. 

The Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance

The ordinance, which is now expected to be on the ballot in November, contains prohibitions seeking to close six major loopholes in Texas anti-abortion laws. Those six prohibitions are, as follows: (1) prohibit performing elective abortions and aiding or abetting elective abortions under local law by extending the private enforcement mechanism found in the Texas Heartbeat Act to the point of conception, (2) prohibit elective abortions on residents of Amarillo, and the abortion trafficking of such residents, outside the State of Texas, (3) prohibit the abortion trafficking of an unborn child through the City of Amarillo, (4) prohibit abortion-inducing drugs from being manufactured, possessed, distributed, mailed, transported, delivered, or provided in any manner to or from any person or location in the City of Amarillo, (5) prohibit criminal organizations who are violating federal laws prohibiting the mailing and receiving of abortion-inducing drugs and abortion paraphernalia from doing business in the City of Amarillo, and (6) prohibit the transportation and disposal of the remains of unborn children killed by elective abortions. 

These six provisions all do something that current law in Texas does not, and would make Amarillo one of the safest cities in Texas for pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

The Support Behind the Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance 

While the SCFTU Ordinance did not have much support on Amarillo’s City Council, the Citizen Initiative Petition Effort was able to obtain about 10,400 signatures with 6,400 of those signatures being verified as registered voters living within the City of Amarillo. 

When these signatures were being collected throughout the City of Amarillo, conservative leaders from across the state and the nation recorded radio ads in support of the effort, including: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Pro-Life Leader Frank Pavone with Priests for Life, and cancer researcher Dr. Joel Brind. During this time, several leaders also came to Amarillo in person to advocate for the passage of the ordinance, including: Senator David Gallegos from New Mexico; Javier Joven, Mayor of Odessa, Texas; Jim Baxa, President of West Texas for Life; Sheena Rodriguez, President of Alliance for a Safe Texas; and Thomas Glessner, President and Founder of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

Throughout the process, Amarillo’s Mayor and City Council also received letters of support for passing the SCFTU ordinance from the National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, Alliance for a Safe Texas, Texas Right to Life, and the Thomas More Society.

Prior to the start of the collection of the citizen initiative petition signatures, many state Senators and Representatives from across Texas and New Mexico had written letters in support of cities in Texas, like Amarillo, passing ordinances prohibiting abortion trafficking. The letter from Texas leaders was signed by State Reps. Dustin Burrows (HD 83), Carl Tepper (HD 84), Jeff Leach (HD 67), Jared Patterson (HD 106), Briscoe Cain (HD 128), Greg Bonnen (HD 24), James Frank (HD 69), Cole Heffner (HD 5), Stephanie Klick (HD 91), Ellen Troxclair (HD 19), Geanie W. Morrison (HD 30), Mark Dorazio (HD 122), Matt Schaefer (HD 6), Carrie Isaac (HD 73), and State Sens. Charles Perry (SD 28), Mayes Middleton (SD 11), Bryan Hughes (SD 1), Tan Parker (SD 12), Donna Campbell (SD 25), and Lois W. Kolkhorst (SD 18). The letter from New Mexico was signed by State Senators David Gallegos (SD 41), Pat Woods (SD 7), and Greg Schmedes, M.D. (SD 19), and State Representatives John Block (HD 51), Andrea Reeb (HD 64), James Townsend (HD 54), and Jennifer Jones (HD 32).

This is the Sixth Time Abortion Has Been On the Ballot in a Post-Roe Texas 

Amarillo’s SCFTU Ordinance will be the sixth time abortion has been on the ballot for voters to decide in Texas since the overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. 

On November 8, 2022, the Cities of Abilene, San Angelo, Plainview, and Athens all had SCFTU ordinances on their local ballots. In all four cities, voters adopted ordinances further outlawing abortion by extending the private enforcement mechanism found in the Texas Heartbeat Act to the point of conception and prohibited abortions performed on residents of their cities outside the State of Texas. In Abilene the ordinance passed by 53 percent, in San Angelo the ordinance passed by 56 percent, in Plainview the ordinance passed by 69 percent, and in Athens the ordinance passed by 58 percent.  

On May 6, 2023, the City of San Antonio had a measure called the “San Antonio Justice Charter” on their local ballot. While the pro-abortion initiative was not solely about the subject of abortion, it was the first attempt of a Texas city to decriminalize abortion through a local ballot measure. According to KSAT News, the measure would have “decriminalized marijuana possession and abortion, expanded the city’s expanded cite-and-release program, created a new ‘justice director’ position, and embedded bans on choke holds and no-knock warrants in the city charter.” The Justice Charter failed with a whopping 72 percent voting against the pro-abortion measure and only 28 percent voting in favor of the pro-abortion measure. 

So far, when abortion has been on the ballot in Texas, the pro-life movement has always won. Residents throughout Amarillo are optimistic that will again be the case when voters return to the polls on November 5, 2024. 

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.