On Monday, July 19, Eastland’s city hall was packed, with standing room only, as the city commissioners voted 4-0 on a first reading to pass an enforceable ordinance outlawing abortion.
In order to go into effect, the ordinance will need to survive one final vote at the next city commissioner meeting. Last month, in a city hall just as full, the city commission voted 5-0 in a procedural vote that directed the Eastland city attorney to work with a director from Right To Life of East Texas on an ordinance to the council’s liking.
While a total of 33 cities throughout the United States (30 of which are in Texas) have passed ordinances outlawing abortion, the process is not always met with immediate success. A day after Eastland (population 3,863) voted to move forward in outlawing abortion in their city, the city council of Edinburg (population 101,170) killed the measure when the council chose to remain silent instead of making a motion to outlaw abortion.
The silence of their Edinburg’s leaders was a surprise to many. As reported previously by Texas Scorecard, Edinburg’s mayor and city council had already expressed their support for the effort at a previous council meeting. There was no doubt that the ordinance to outlaw abortion was controversial. The city hall’s chambers were full with residents from the community on both sides of the issue. When it came to those in attendance who were pro-life as opposed to those attending who were pro-choice, it was evident that the pro-life community had a strong presence inside the city council chambers, taking up the majority of the chairs. The pro-choice community was mostly in the back corner of the city council chambers, the lobby, and outside.
When it came to public testimony, however, the pro-choice community easily outnumbered those who spoke in favor of protecting the life of the unborn. Media organization Trucha Rio Grande Valley reported that 65 public comments were heard on the Edinburg ordinance outlawing abortion. Of those 65 public comments, a total of 53 spoke against the ordinance, with only 12 speaking in the ordinance’s favor.
Groups that were present opposing the ordinance included: Rio Grande Valley SAFE Project, South Texans for Reproductive Justice, Frontera Fund, Planned Parenthood, ACLU Texas, Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, Jane’s Due Process, TEA Fund, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.
Groups that were present in support of the ordinance included: Rio Grande Valley Pro-Life Apostolate United For Life, Rio Grande Valley Fight For Life, Objective Watchers of the Legal System (OWLS), the Knights of Columbus of Edinburg, Right To Life of East Texas, Students For Life, Texas Right To Life, and members of churches from throughout Edinburg.
The majority of those who spoke in favor of abortion attacked Mayor Richard Molina and Councilman David White, berating them for even allowing the discussion. Mayor Molina was the one who publicly spoke in favor of the possibility of Edinburg becoming the first sanctuary city for the unborn in the Rio Grande Valley, while Councilman White was the reason the ordinance outlawing abortion was placed on the council agenda for consideration.
When the council asked the city staff for their findings, City Manager Ron Garza shared that cities outlawing abortion was a new thing and authoritatively stated that cities had only started outlawing abortion since April, making the movement only four months old. Those familiar with the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative wished to object to this inaccuracy, but the timing was inappropriate to do so. The initiative outlawing abortion, which started in June 2019, is not four months old, but 26 months old.
During the discussion, Mayor Molina shared that he was surprised to learn that Lubbock’s mayor and council did not pass the ordinance by voting in favor of the measure, but that it was voted on through a ballot initiative by the people of Lubbock.
Councilman Johnny Garcia shared that he talked to Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope (who opposed the ordinance) and that, outside of Lubbock, all the other cities that have outlawed abortion have populations of fewer than 1,000 people. Those familiar with the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative wished to object to this inaccuracy but, again, the timing was inappropriate. Currently, there are 16 cities with a population of more than 1,000 that have passed ordinances outlawing abortion within their city limits.
Hearing that the City of Edinburg consulted with Lubbock’s mayor was concerning to several in attendance who were familiar with the Lubbock controversy. Before the passage of the Lubbock ordinance, Mayor Dan Pope had developed a reputation for publicly opposing the ordinance. In fact, it was Mayor Pope’s statements, along with the City of Lubbock hiring a law firm with family ties to Planned Parenthood to review the ordinance, that led the citizens of Lubbock to do their part to get the ordinance on the ballot. Although the citizens of Lubbock saw the ordinance pass with a majority of 62 percent and saw Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the ordinance fail in federal court, the battle is far from over in Lubbock, Texas.
Currently, the Lubbock mayor and city council are seeking to amend the city charter to require a higher number of signatures for future ballot initiatives. They are also proposing to give themselves the power to reverse decisions made by citizens in a city-wide referendum election after six months. They claim that the silence of the charter on revoking a citizen petition gives them that power already, and they argue that they are improving the city charter by giving a six-month wait period. According to Jim Baxa, president of West Texas For Life, this measure not only goes against the purpose of having a referendum, but it also goes against the Texas Constitution, as Article 1 Section 2 states, “All political power is inherent in the people.” Baxa’s group and other pro-life organizations like Project Destiny and Raiders Defending Life are mobilizing to fight against the City of Lubbock’s leadership, who are insisting on making these changes.
When the city council of Edinburg failed to make a motion, allowing the ordinance to die, Edinburg resident Alyssa Sanchez said, “It is frustrating to witness the unresponsive city council members in such a prime opportunity to defend the sanctity of human life.”
Although disappointed, the lack of action by the council only fuels Sanchez to fight harder. “ We will continue this fight until the unborn and women are protected. South Texas has only witnessed a glimpse of the pro-life mission to preserve human life.”
Sarah Luna, president and founder of Rio Grande Valley Fight For Life, attended the council meeting to speak in favor of the ordinance on behalf of Students For Life, a nationwide organization supportive of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative.
Following the vote Luna shared, “I am deeply disappointed in the lack of courage / action from the Edinburg city council members. However, I am far from discouraged as the fight for life is not over. We will remain relentless in efforts to protect human life here in South Texas.”
The news also invoked a response from pro-life voices outside of the Rio Grande Valley.
Lubbock County resident Jim Baxa speculated that Councilman Garcia talking to the mayor of the Lubbock did not help, but hurt the effort to outlaw abortion in Edinburg. “We want the city of Edinburg to know that Mayor Dan Pope doesn’t represent the people of Lubbock on this issue. We believe the people of the Rio Grande Valley are pro-life and would be stand with them in keeping the murder of innocent children out of Edinburg.”
Big Spring Mayor Shannon Thomason, whose city outlawed abortion in January of 2020, also chimed in, saying, “I encourage mayors and city officials to reach out and learn about the ordinance from those who have ‘been there and done that.’ But when they only reach out to someone who equates abortion clinics to ‘grocery stores and Baptist churches,’ they are doing a disservice to their constituents and their community.”
Odessa Mayor Javier Joven, the first hispanic mayor of Odessa, also weighed in on the issue, stating, “I would like to encourage the citizens of Edinburg and city council to stay the course on the protection of life—to be an example to countless generations that in Edinburg is where the preservation of life is paramount.” Mayor Joven continued, “To the mayor and city council of Edinburg: We the children of an Almighty God stand with you. I am truly encouraged that faith and wisdom will prevail in the adoption of an ordinance in your city that reveals the reborn stood up for the preborn!”
Before he was elected mayor of Odessa, Joven ran on a platform of outlawing abortion, committing to do his part to make Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn. Joven and two other candidates for city council who ran on similar platforms won in a landslide election, giving the city of Odessa three of the four votes needed to outlaw abortion within their city limits. Since then, Mayor Joven has been faithful to uphold his part of that commitment.
Prior to Lubbock outlawing abortion, Mayor Joven spoke at the Lubbock March For Life, standing in support of Lubbock’s pro-life community. After Lubbock outlawed abortion, he took part in an Odessa march called “Make Odessa a Sanctuary for Life.” At this event, Joven was joined by the mayors of Big Spring and Whiteface, the 11th and the 13th cities to outlaw abortion. While it is true that Odessa is not yet a sanctuary city for the unborn, no one can accuse Mayor Joven of not doing his part to outlaw abortion in his city limits.
While the outcome of the Edinburg council meeting was not what anyone in the pro-life community wanted, the missed opportunity by the council taught the pro-life community in the Rio Grande Valley a valuable lesson: They cannot just show up; they have to speak. And while the pro-choice community has been vocal this week about their victory defeating the ordinance in Edinburg, the fight for life is far from over in the Rio Grande Valley.
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