On Tuesday, March 1st, the City of San Angelo held a hearing on the Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance, which would outlaw abortion within the city limits of San Angelo, Texas, population of 101,612. This was not a matter the mayor and the city council of San Angelo wanted to vote on, despite the clear will of the people. As allowed by the San Angelo City Charter, several San Angelo residents came together, filed a petition, and collected more signatures than the required 1,512 signatures which were needed to force the item on the agenda and for a vote by the San Angelo City Council. It is because of this effort by the citizens of San Angelo that this scheduled hearing was made possible.

Unlike the City of Lubbock’s hearing, which started in the evening and lasted 7 hours and 21 minutes, the morning hearing in San Angelo was relatively short – lasting only 1 hour and 40 minutes. A total of 18 people spoke during public comment at the hearing: 14 spoke in favor of the Council passing the ordinance in the form proposed and 2 spoke against the Council passing the ordinance in the form proposed. There was one who spoke in favor of the Council sending the ordinance to the ballot in the form proposed and there was one who spoke in favor of the Council sending the ordinance to the ballot in an amended form, but neither were valid options allowed for by the San Angelo City Charter as part of the Citizen Initiative Process.

The hearing was intense, with the first several speakers being grilled by Councilman Larry Miller on if they had read the ordinance and if they wanted any changes made to the ordinance. Anticipating the questions posed by Councilman Miller, many of those speaking in favor of the ordinance chose to answer the question before it was even asked of them.

Several of those speaking in favor of the ordinance also pointed out that the City Council, when they wanted to, had no problem voting for a variety of different issues. Lou McLemore, a post-abortion counselor at the Concho Valley Biblical Counseling Center in San Angelo, asked the Mayor and City Council, “It was no problem voting to make San Angelo a no-kill zone for animals, but why is it so hard to vote for life for little babies?”

Later on, San Angelo resident Suzie Smith shared, “I was just sick to my stomach when I think about how this has been addressed and the pride that this City Council expressed – that we don’t kill trees here in San Angelo, and the pride that we don’t kill dogs. I was sickened to my stomach. All of this because we want to save the lives of children in the womb?” Smith continued, “Abortion is the killing of a child in the womb. Are you against or are you for the killing of a child living in the womb? It’s that simple.” Smith closed her remarks pleading with the Mayor and City Council, “Please let’s value the lives of children in the womb at least as much as trees and dogs.”

Several San Angelo residents leaned on statements which had been made by State Representatives in support of the movement. During his time San Angelo resident John Bariou read part of a letter from the Attorney General’s Office in support of the Lubbock Ordinance Outlawing Abortion. The section read by Bariou stated, “The Texas legislature has clarified that state law does not prevent cities like Lubbock from imposing regulations like those that Planned Parenthood challenges.”

Bariou also read a section of the Texas Heartbeat Act 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.” Later on, in that same letter, Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone wrote, “This section of SB 8 does not alter state abortion regulations; instead, it guarantees local authority in a particular regard – the regulation of abortion – unless another state law “explicitly states” that a political subdivision is prohibited from regulating or prohibiting abortion in a specific way.”

San Angelo Resident Scott Farris also chose to lean on the statements of state officials. Farris read part of a letter from Senators and Representatives in support of the ordinances being passed across Texas.

“The Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance outlaws abortion within city limits, declares abortion to be murder, and protects municipalities from abortion providers setting up shop within the city’s jurisdiction. The ordinance does not defy federal law, but enables cities to take bold action for Life while remaining within the existing legal framework of Roe v. Wade. The ordinance does not contradict the United States Constitution; rather, the language is intentionally and carefully drafted to protect both tiny Texans from abortion and cities from costly lawsuits. Since there is some immediate enforcement, through civil liability, the ordinance serves as an important deterrent to the abortion industry from moving into their jurisdiction. Importantly, the ordinance does 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.”

In the midst of reading the letter from Senator Charles Perry and other leaders in the state of Texas, Mayor Brenda Gunter interrupted Farris, “How many cities and Mayors was that sent to? We didn’t receive it.” While Farris did not know the answer to that objection, the next speaker did. A director from Right To Life of East Texas not only corrected the Mayor that the City of San Angelo had received the letter, but he also revealed that the City failed to hand over that letter in the open records request which had been filed with the city. When asked who had sent the letter the director revealed that he had sent the letter directly to the Mayor and handed over printed copies of his email to be entered into the city’s record. The Mayor was left speechless.

In the weeks leading up to the hearing there was much concern the hearing was not going to be a fair hearing. Some area residents even saw the meeting as nothing more than a “sham,” believing that the Mayor and City Council had already decided the outcome of the meeting. Because of this, a Houston-area law firm was retained by San Angelo residents and has been monitoring the situation with the City of San Angelo.

The distrust for the Mayor and City Council of San Angelo became even greater when an extensive open records request was filed relating to the ordinance in San Angelo and less than 100 pages were obtained. Several in the community were furious as they knew there were emails and text messages out there that should have been turned in, but had not been. When an almost identical open records request was made in the City of Abilene and about 4,000 pages were obtained; they were greatly distubed by the lack of transparency in their city’s government. While several speakers mentioned concerns of this nature throughout the hearing, the Mayor and City Council appeared to ignore those concerns and kept their focus on the ordinance itself.

Councilman Miller, who claims to be pro-life,  was the most vocal about his criticisms of the ordinance during the hearing. Miller expressed his view that the ordinance did not go far enough because: (1) it did not penalize the woman seeking the abortion, and (2) it did not outlaw emergency contraception like Plan B. It was pointed out that if Councilman Miller had a problem with the proposed San Angelo Ordinance for these things, then he would also have a problem with the Texas Heartbeat Act which also does not penalize the woman seeking an abortion and does not outlaw Plan B. Councilman Miller also took issue with the private enforcement mechanism in the San Angelo Ordinance, which is also found in the Texas Heartbeat Act. More than one city council member appeared skeptical of the enforcement provision found in the Texas Heartbeat Act. This was surprising to some, especially since the San Angelo City Council voted in favor of issuing a proclamation in support of the Texas Heartbeat Act last year.

Ryan Buck, Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in San Angelo shared, “It should be very concerning to the entire San Angelo community that we have leaders who appear to be standing against our State Senators and State Representatives who passed the Texas Heartbeat Act.”

When it came time to vote, the Mayor asked if there was a motion among the City Council to pass the ordinance. Since no motion was made, the Mayor asked if there was a motion among the City Council to reject the ordinance as is. While two City Council members expressed a desire to amend the ordinance, the motion on the floor was to reject the ordinance as is – which they both did. The vote of the City Council to reject the ordinance, as is, was a unanimous 7-0.

As soon as the vote rejecting the ordinance was cast, Pastor Ryan Buck walked forward with a letter from the Initiating Committee raised in his hand raised in the air. He handed the letter to San Angelo’s City Clerk. That letter demanded, in accordance with the San Angelo City Charter, that the ordinance be placed on the November ballot for the voters to decide. The San Angelo City Council then attempted to amend the ordinance before it went to the ballot, but it was pointed out that they did not have that power and that decision was in the hands of the initiating committee and not the City Council.

Many in attendance were absolutely shocked that their conservative city council voted against the measure. An overwhelming majority of those who vote in Tom Green County are conservative Republican voters. During Tom Green County’s 2020 Presidential Election 71.5% (33,313) voted Republican, 27.1% (12,239) voted Democrat, and 1.5% (558) voted for other candidates. During the 2018 Republican Party Primary, voters had the opportunity to vote on proposition #7. This proposition gave voters the chance to voice their opinion if they were “In Favor” or “Against” this following statement: ” I believe abortion should be abolished in Texas.” In Tom Green County, out of 6,948 votes, 5,017 voted in favor of the idea of abolishing abortion in the state of Texas and 1,931 voted against the idea of abolishing abortion in the state of Texas. This means a majority of the majority of those who vote in Tom Green County are in favor of outlawing abortion in the State of Texas.

The passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act has not caused the conservative Republican voters of Tom Green County to be any less pro-life. By the end of the SAME day the San Angelo City Council voted against the ordinance, election results on a proposition on the 2022 Republican Party Primary ballot revealed that out of 11,150 votes, 9,385 voted in favor of a proposition in support of a Constitutional Amendment in support of defending “the sanctity of innocent human life, created in the image of God, from fertilization until natural death,” with only 1,765 voting against the proposition.

Because residents of San Angelo had brought this ordinance through the Citizen Initiative process allowed for by the San Angelo City Charter, and since the San Angelo City Council voted down the ordinance, the citizens of San Angelo will get to see this ordinance go for a vote by their citizens at the November election.

The fight for life continues in San Angelo.

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, a pastor of SovereignLOVE Church in Longview, Texas, and the founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative.

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