During the month of August, two Texas cities had proposed Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn ordinances on their city agendas. The City of Chandler (pop. 3,476) considered the measure on August 8, while the City of Llano (pop. 3,537) considered the measure on August 21. Both city councils pushed the consideration of their ordinances to a future meeting.

The proposed ordinances, which are almost identical, (1) prohibit elective abortions and the aiding or abetting of elective abortions within city limits – extending the private enforcement mechanism found in the Texas Heartbeat Act from the point of detectable heartbeat to the point of conception, (2) prohibit elective abortions or the aiding or abetting of elective abortions on residents who live within the city limits – regardless of the location of the abortion, (3) prohibit the manufacturing, possession, or distribution of abortion-inducing drugs within the city limits, (4) prohibit abortion trafficking and the aiding or abetting abortion trafficking within the city limits – making it illegal for abortion traffickers to use any roads or runways within the city limits, (5) prohibit any person within the city limits from knowingly paying for or reimbursing the costs associated with obtaining an elective abortion performed on another person – regardless of the location of the abortion, (6) prohibit the transport of the remains of unborn children who have been killed by an elective abortion from any abortion provider into the city limits, or to dispose of such remains within the city limits, and (7) prohibit organizations seeking to profit off of the murder of innocent children from operating or doing business within the city limits.

Chandler, Texas

The effort to see Chandler become a “sanctuary city for the unborn” is not anything new. Chandler was approached with an ordinance on December 14, 2021. At that time, a total of 38 cities had passed ordinances outlawing abortion in the State of Texas – all with the same private enforcement mechanism as the Texas Heartbeat Act. At that meeting Mayor Libby Fulgham and council members Janeice Lunsford, Conley Cade, Angie Saxon, and Stacey Dickson all heard a presentation during public comment regarding the “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance from several in attendance. Councilman Marshall Crawford Jr was absent from the meeting. The ordinance which was presented to the city council was given by leadership to their City Attorney. It was discovered soon thereafter that the City Attorney was in opposition to the ordinance.

Four months later, on April 12, 2022, the city council was encouraged again to place the ordinance on their city council agenda. Now 41 cities in Texas had passed ordinances outlawing abortion. At that meeting Mayor Libby Fulgham and council members Janeice Lunsford, Marshall Crawford Jr, Conley Cade, Angie Saxon, and Stacey Dickson all heard a presentation during public comment regarding the “sanctuary city for the unborn” from several in attendance. At the meeting City Attorney Blake Armstrong was publicly criticized for his position that the “sanctuary cities for the unborn” ordinances were not “legally sound or enforceable” even though the City of Lubbock (pop. 264,000) had seen a victory in federal court when their ordinance was challenged.

Sixteen months later, on August 8, 2023, the ordinance was listed on the city council’s meeting agenda. The makeup of the council had changed. Cy Ditzler was the new mayor and Milton Wallace and Lauren Kendrick were the new council members, joining council members Janeice Lunsford, Angie Saxon, and Stacey Dickson. Now 50 cities and 1 county had passed “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinances in the State of Texas.

While the agenda of items to be considered was posted on the city hall’s bulletin board and the agenda did state that the council was to “consider and act on declaring Chandler, Texas a sanctuary city,” City Administrator John Whitsell advised the council that they could not vote on the ordinance and that this item was to be for “discussion only,” despite the agenda clearly stating to “consider and act.” A staff report from City Administrator John Whitsell, which was not posted on the bulletin board and was the only public indication that the city council might not vote on the ordinance, recommended City Attorney Blake Armstrong review the ordinance and accompanying documents before any action was taken by the mayor and city council.

This recommendation upset several in attendance – especially since the previous council had already asked for City Attorney Blake Armstrong’s opinion on the passage of a “sanctuary cities for the unborn” ordinance. According to the Texas Municipal League website, Attorney Blake Armstrong is the city attorney for 16 municipalities throughout East Texas. Municipalities where Armstrong serves as the City Attorney include: Overton, Edgewood, Kilgore, Log Cabin, Eustace, Troup, Seven Points, Mineola, Poynor, Tool, Athens, White Oak, Gun Barrel City, Grand Saline, Chandler, and Winona.

When the City of Athens (pop. 13,121) was considering the ordinance, the Athens Daily Review reported that City Attorney Blake Armstrong gave advice to the Mayor of Athens that the ordinance under their consideration was “unenforceable and outside the council’s jurisdiction.” Armstrong said this despite the State Legislature passing a law which explicitly supported cities and counties passing such ordinances. It is believed by some that Armstrong is the reason why many cities in East Texas have yet to pass a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance – including the Henderson County Republican Party.

In the end, the council took the recommendation of the City Administrator and did not vote on the ordinance itself, but decided to vote to place the ordinance on their agenda for their council meeting on September 12, 2023.

Llano, Texas

Unlike the effort to see Chandler become a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” the Llano effort is something new. The City of Llano was approached with an ordinance on August 7, 2023. At that meeting Mayor Marion Bishop and council members Larry Sawyer, Kara Gilliland, Wayne DeCesaris, Eugene Long, and Laura Almond heard a presentation during public comment regarding the “sanctuary city for the unborn” from several in attendance.

At the next meeting, on August 21, 2023, the proposed ordinance was listed on the city council’s agenda. Several in attendance spoke both for and against the measure. One who spoke in favor of the passage of the ordinance was Javier Joven – the Mayor of Odessa, Texas (pop. 125,413). Under Mayor Joven’s leadership, the Odessa City Council had passed an ordinance outlawing abortion and abortion trafficking in their city in a 6-1 vote in December of 2022. After sharing from his own experience, Joven encouraged the LLano City Council to be courageous and do what was right.

After the city council heard from those in attendance both for and against the measure, Councilman Wayne DeCesaris shared his reasoning for placing the ordinance on the agenda and how he believed it would be good for the community. DeCesaris shared that Llano’s City Attorney had reviewed the ordinance and saw the ordinance as “enforceable.” Mayor Marion Bishop also shared a letter from Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell, who offered to represent the city at no cost to the city or taxpayers for any litigation which may arise over the proposed ordinance.

In addition to this, Mayor Bishop also read a letter which had been received by Senators and Representatives from across the State of Texas. The letter read, “During the 2021 Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature made it even more clear that cities and counties could pass ordinances outlawing abortion when they passed Senate Bill 8 – also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act. This bill prohibited an abortion being performed on any child which is found to have a detectable heartbeat, but also included a section addressing the authority cities and counties have at prohibiting abortion in their jurisdiction.” The elected officials referenced Texas Government Code § 311.036(b), which states, “A statute may not be construed to restrict a political subdivision from regulating or prohibiting abortion in a manner that is at least as stringent as the laws of this state unless the statute explicitly states that political subdivisions are prohibited from regulating or prohibiting abortion in the manner described by the statute.”

After establishing the authority cities and counties had for passing such ordinances, officials argued the need for the ordinances, even in a post-Roe Texas. The officials wrote:

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. 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.

Those who signed the letter, dated August 21, 2023, included: Representatives 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), and Senators Charles Perry (SD 28) and Mayes Middleton (SD 11). After the letter was printed, more elected officials asked to have their name added to the letter, including Representative Matt Schaefer (HD 6).

After reading the letter, Mayor Bishop asked for a motion. Councilwoman Almond immediately made the motion to table the ordinance and Councilman Sawyer voted to second the motion. Despite Councilman DeCesaris’ report that their city attorney had found the proposed ordinance “enforceable” and despite the letters read by Mayor Bishop, Councilwoman Almond began criticizing the ordinance. Councilwoman Almond called the measure “unenforceable” and accused the measure of “turning neighbor against neighbor.” Other council members followed suit. Councilman Long shared his concern that the passage of the ordinance would cause the City of Llano to get sued. In the end, the Llano City Council tabled the ordinance in a 4-1 vote. Councilman DeCesaris was the lone council member against the action.

While many in attendance were disappointed with their council tabling of the measure, the effort to see Llano become a “sanctuary city for the unborn” is far from over. Many are attempting to get the measure on the next available city council agenda. Mayor Bishop told the Daily Tribune, “(The ordinance) will be before the council again, and probably after some other research and exploration, I think it will pass.”

The Fight Continues

The Cities of Chandler and Llano are not alone in their consideration of prohibiting abortion trafficking – nor are their citizens alone in seeing their city’s leaders delay the process. While some cities have seen their city’s ordinance pass in three days, other cities have seen the process take over three years to come to fruition. While it is anyone’s guess which city or county in Texas will be next, one thing is certain: cities and counties throughout Texas are not finished doing their part to fight abortion in the State of Texas. More political subdivisions will be considering such measures in the days, weeks, and months to come.

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.