Update 7/5/2022: This story has been updated with additional details about the citizen initiative effort and a more precise account of what was believed to be turned in by the citizen initiative petition initiating committee.

On Monday, June 20, 2022, six residents of Athens, Texas (pop. 13,121), turned in more than 2,300 citizen initiative petition signatures to Athens City Hall. The six residents making up the Citizen Petition Initiating Committee include: Tommie Thomas, Mistie Sharp, Preston Pulley, Jenna Pulley, Karina Morales, and Jared Madrazo. This group led a small team in pre-verifying more than 1,400 of the submitted signatures before they were submitted to the city secretary.

The Citizen Initiative Petitioner’s Committee takes a group picture after turning in citizen initiative petition signatures to outlaw abortion in the City of Athens.

All signatures were collected during a period of 22 days in an effort guided by Right To Life of East Texas. According to Article XI of the Athens City Charter, “Any initiated ordinance may be submitted to the city council by a petition signed by at least fifteen percent of the persons qualified to vote in city elections.”

Based on numbers obtained by the Henderson County Board of Elections, it was determined that 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 whopping 2,368 signatures (1,291 signatures more than the required amount).

Citizens and Right To Life of East Texas Director Mark Lee Dickson pray over the signatures in the parking lot of Athens City Hall prior to their submission.

Several area churches were involved in helping collect signatures to make this goal possible, including: Sand Springs Church, Saint Edward’s Catholic Church, Faith Fellowship Church, Fellowship Baptist Church of Athens, Grace Bible Church of Athens, Lake Athens Baptist Church, Gates Community Church International, Living for the Brand Cowboy Church, Iglesia Bautista New Life, God’s Bible Church of Athens, Country Chapel, Athens United Pentecostal Church, Los Pentecostales De Athens, Athens First Church of the Nazarene, Athens Life Fellowship, Thrive Community Church, and Calvary Baptist Church of Athens.

The churches were not the only groups that made the collection drive successful; several area businesses allowed signatures to be collected at their establishments. Henderson County Republican Party Chair Dan Hunt and Lubbock-area political consultant Mike Stevens also assisted the residents of Athens, ensuring they had everything they needed to run a successful block-walking portion of their signature collection drive.

According to the Athens City Charter, “The city secretary shall check the petition for qualifications of signers thereon to vote in city elections during the current year and shall within twenty days after the filing of such petition attach thereto his certificate showing the results of his examination.”

When the petition is found sufficient, the city secretary is to immediately advise the city council, and 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.”

The most recent city to pass an ordinance outlawing abortion was the City of Normangee (pop. 778). The Normangee City Council passed its ordinance like the majority of cities outlawing abortion have: through a vote of their mayor and city council. The only city that did not adopt an ordinance outlawing abortion through a vote of its mayor and city council is the City of Lubbock (pop. 264,000).

Athens is the fifth city where citizens have turned in a citizen initiative petition to outlaw abortion this year, following the cities of San Angelo (pop. 101,612), Lindale (pop. 6,730), Plainview (pop. 22,343), and Abilene (pop. 124,407). While the city council of Lindale decided to adopt the ordinance outlawing abortion, the city councils of San Angelo, Plainview, and Abilene refused to pass the ordinance themselves, forcing the ordinance on the November 8 ballot.

More cities are expected to consider outlawing abortion in a post-Roe Texas in the coming weeks, but most are expected to consider the ordinance through a vote of their mayor and city council. Citizens interested in seeing abortion outlawed in their city are encouraged to sign the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative’s online petition.

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.