On Monday, July 11, the city council of Athens (pop. 13,121) received the certification of the citizen initiative petition signatures from their City Secretary. Based on numbers obtained by the Henderson County Board of Elections, a total of 1,077 qualified signatures were needed in order for the city initiative petition to be successful. The initiating committee turned in a total of over 2,300 signatures. While the City Secretary did not review all 2,300 signatures, she found at least 1,122 signatures to be valid – meaning that the citizens of Athens had met the requirement for their initiative to proceed to the next step.

According to the Athens City Charter the city council is bound to either: (1) “pass the initiated ordinance without amendment within thirty days after the date of certification to the city council,” (2) “submit said initiated ordinance without amendments to a vote of those qualified to vote in city elections in a regular … election to be held within ninety days of the certification to the city council,” or (3) “at such election submit to a vote of those persons qualified to vote in city elections said initiated ordinance without amendment and an alternative ordinance on the same subject proposed by the city council.”

While it is uncertain what the Athens City Council’s final decision will be, Athens Mayor Toni Clay has repeatedly made her opposition to the ordinance clear. In a recent interview with the Austin American Statesman Mayor Clay shared, “I’m deeply concerned about the precedent that it sets in the state and in this country . . . When the government says, ‘We want you, the citizens, to go after one another’?

That’s never good.” On USA Today’s States of America Mayor Clay criticized the private enforcement mechanism found in the proposed Athens Ordinance stating, “As a Jesus follower, I don’t feel that’s very Christ-like.”

If passed, the Athens Ordinance Outlawing Abortion would prohibit: (1) abortions within the city limits of Athens, (2) aiding and abetting abortion within the city limits of Athens, (3) the possession or distribution of abortion-inducing drugs in the city limits of Athens, (4) abortion coverage in employer-provided health insurance in the city limits of Athens, (5) abortions performed on residents of Athens—regardless of where the abortion takes place, and (6) abortions in Athens in violation of Texas law.

In addition to allowing citizens to sue the abortionist and anyone who is aiding and abetting the abortionist, the ordinance would also allow for the government of Athens to enforce the penalties now that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey have been overturned.

Mike Seibel, an attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico who has been following the Athens initiative closely, is hopeful that the City of Athens will adopt the Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance.

Seibel shared, “We have seen over a 100 percent increase in the number of women traveling from Texas to New Mexico for abortions. There is a high probability that an abortion-minded woman from Athens will choose to travel to New Mexico.”

This week the Austin American Statesman and USA Today reported on a church in East Texas which is helping women fly from Dallas to Albuquerque, New Mexico to have “legal abortions.” Seibel continued, “It is imperative that Athens adopt a strong city ordinance to prevent Athens residents from traveling to New Mexico for abortions in a Post-Dobbs era.”

While the Athens City Council has not yet set a date to vote on the Athens Ordinance Outlawing Abortion, the Athens City Charter gives them a total of 30 days to make that decision.

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.