On Thursday, a group of citizens from San Angelo banded together to form an initiating committee and filed an ordinance with the City of San Angelo (population 101,612), beginning the initiative and referendum process to see abortion outlawed within their city limits.
The Initiating Committee was comprised of nine people, including Pastor Paul Shero from Southgate Church of Christ; Stephanie Socha, the San Angelo director for the Pro-Life Catholic Diocese; Former City Councilman Marty Self; retired nurse Karen Jordan; and various other members of the San Angelo community, including Becky Long, Gary Jenkins, De Herring, Daniel Martinez, and Juanita Brown.
In order for the initiative to be successful, the committee will need to collect a total of 1,512 signatures from registered voters in the City of San Angelo. Upon those signatures being verified by the city clerk, a hearing will be held regarding the adoption of the ordinance. At the conclusion of that hearing, the city council will vote for or against the adoption of the ordinance. If the city council votes against the ordinance, the initiating committee has the ability to place the ordinance on the ballot for the issue to be decided by the voters of San Angelo in May 2022.
The decision to form an initiating committee was not done lightheartedly, but only as a last resort. Pastor Ryan Buck with Immanuel Baptist Church in San Angelo shared, “We did not want to go the route of a city-wide election, but since our mayor and city council would not listen to us, we were left with no other choice.”
The effort to see abortion outlawed in San Angelo started when the City of Big Spring, Texas (population 28,862), outlawed abortion in January 2020. Since then, residents of the San Angelo area have been working to see the City of San Angelo pass an ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits.
Late this summer, area residents felt ready to take the issue before their mayor and city council. Those who spoke before the mayor and council in favor of the ordinance made it clear that they did not want a non-binding resolution or proclamation—they wanted an enforceable ordinance. They did not want to discourage abortion; they wanted to outlaw abortion. Meeting after meeting, members of the San Angelo community packed the city council chambers, each time pleading with their leaders to pass the ordinance that had been presented to them on August 17.
The mayor and city council voiced their decision on Tuesday, October 5, when the San Angelo City Council voted 5-2 to pass a non-binding proclamation “supporting the Right to Life and supporting the Texas Heartbeat Act” (which residents did not ask for), instead of an enforceable ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. Councilman Harry Thomas made the motion and Councilwoman Lucy Gonzales seconded the motion. The two dissenting votes, Councilman Lane Carter and Councilman Larry Miller, voted against the proclamation, acknowledging that the citizens were not asking for a non-binding resolution or proclamation, but an enforceable ordinance outlawing abortion.
The city council members who sided against the ordinance were Mayor Brenda Gunter, Tommy Hiebert, Tom Thompson, Harry Thomas, and Lucy Gonzales. The city council members who sided in favor of the ordinance were Lane Carter and Larry Miller.
This decision was a surprise to many, especially since the Texas Heartbeat Act supports cities passing ordinances outlawing abortion. Isaiah Mitchell, a reporter with The Texan, rightly recognizes this in a tweet responding to the October 5 vote. Mitchell tweeted, “This is interesting. After consulting with attorney about passing an ordinance to outlaw abortion in city limits (like Lubbock, for example), councilors instead decided to pass a resolution supporting Senate Bill 8 (Heartbeat Act), which explicitly allows local abortion bans.”
Mitchell shared an image of the section in SB 8, which states “Sec. 17.206. Construction of Subchapter (a) This subchapter does not create or recognize a right to abortion before a fetal heartbeat is detected. (b) This subchapter may not be construed to . . . (3) restrict a political subdivision from regulating or prohibiting abortion in a manner that is at least as stringent as the laws of this state.”
On Tuesday, November 2, 2021, the non-binding proclamation in support of “The Right to Life and the Texas Heartbeat Bill” was released, but it did not say anything in the proclamation about the Texas Heartbeat Act. The closest that the proclamation got to making a statement about the Texas Heartbeat Act was when the proclamation stated:
The City Council hereby makes a committed effort to support and protect the health, welfare, and life of all residents within the city of San Angelo, from conception until natural death, by standing in support of the Texas Legislature’s commitment to life through the implementation of legislation protecting unborn human life.
Some have questioned why the mayor and city council, who voted to pass a proclamation supporting “the Right to Life and the Texas Heartbeat Bill,” made no mention of the Texas Heartbeat Act. Some have even asked if the reasoning for this was to avoid being held accountable to the fact that the Texas Heartbeat Act, which the city council voted to pass a proclamation in support of, actually supports cities passing ordinances outlawing abortion.
Even if the mayor and the city council wanted a way out of recognizing the Texas Heartbeat Act directly, this still doesn’t change the fact that the motion the city council made on October 5th, according to the approved minutes, was in favor of a proclamation in support of “the Right to Life and the Texas Heartbeat Bill.” This has led some to begin discussions about voting several of the city’s leadership out of office, recognizing that their current leadership—and the attorney that leadership has hired—cannot even follow through with the type of proclamation the mayor and the council voted to bring forth.
Out of the 42 cities throughout the United States thst have passed ordinances outlawing abortion, only one has outlawed abortion through a citywide vote. On Saturday, May 1, the residents of the City of Lubbock (population 264,000) voted to pass an ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. Out of a total of 34,260 votes cast in the election, a total of 21,400 votes (62.5 percent) were cast in favor of the ordinance, and 12,860 votes (37.5 percent) were cast against. In Lubbock County, where the City of Lubbock is the county seat, 65.3 percent of their residents voted Republican in the 2020 presidential election. Proposition 7 in the 2018 Republican Party primary election revealed that 72.1 percent of Republicans in Lubbock County are in favor of outlawing abortion in the state of Texas.
When the 2020 presidential election numbers and the 2018 Republican Party primary numbers from Lubbock County are compared to the numbers from Tom Green County, it would appear that the San Angelo ordinance could see an even greater margin of victory than Lubbock’s 62.5 percent. In Tom Green County, where the City of San Angelo is the county seat, 71.5 percent of their residents voted Republican. Proposition 7 in the 2018 Republican Party primary election revealed that more than 72.2 percent of Republicans in Tom Green County are in favor of outlawing abortion in the state of Texas.
While it is uncertain how soon the initiating committee will collect the 1,512 signatures needed, it is assumed that the committee should have no problem getting that number of signatures in a matter of weeks.
Those who wish to see abortion outlawed within their city limits are encouraged to sign the online petition on the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn website.
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