On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, the City of Midlothian considered an ordinance that would have added further protection for unborn children. Midlothian, with a population of 37,053, is located in Ellis County about 30 minutes southeast of Fort Worth.

That ordinance was ultimately rejected, leaving some residents feeling like they had been strung along by their mayor.

While Ashley Leenerts with Texas Right To Life had been working with Midlothian resident Hugh Reynolds and the Midlothian community to pass the measure since November 2021, the process came to a breaking point almost five months prior to Tuesday’s meeting, at a council meeting held on Tuesday, April 26.

At that meeting, representatives from both Texas Right To Life and Right To Life of East Texas addressed the city council and answered the council’s questions regarding the proposed ordinance. At that council meeting, Mayor Richard Reno said the ordinance “goes beyond stopping abortions and into the lives of our people,” expressing his desire to put the ordinance before the community to decide for themselves in a citywide election.

Following discussion at that meeting, Councilmember Justin Coffman moved to table consideration of the proposed ordinance, requesting Mayor Richard Reno form a committee to address the issue. Councilmember Hud Hartson seconded the motion, which passed in a unanimous vote of 7-0.

On Tuesday, May 24, the discussion moved forward. In a 5-2 vote, the city council passed a resolution forming a committee to review the ordinance and bring the ordinance back to the city council. Councilmember Ted Miller and Councilmember Clark Wickliffe were the only two council members who voted in opposition to the measure. On that committee was Mayor Richard Reno, Councilman Justin Coffman, Dan Altman, Karena Blackwell, Lisa Taylor-Cook, Joan Davis, Jamie McNulty, Wayne Shuffield, Betty Tryon, and Greg Wilhelm.

The committee met several times, working through what many of them believed was going to be an ordinance that would be adopted by their city council. Dan Altman, a Midlothian resident and attorney in the area, spoke on behalf of the committee and shared their recommendation to pass the proposed ordinance. After much discussion back and forth, the Midlothian City Council voted 4-3 against passage of the proposed ordinance. Mayor Richard Reno and Councilmembers Wayne Sibley, Walter Barrack, and Clark Wickliffe all voted against the ordinance, while Councilmembers Anna Hammonds, Justin Coffman, and Hud Hartson voted in favor of the ordinance.

Members of the Midlothian community were shocked with their council’s final decision. Among the chatter following the meeting, one could hear citizens calling Mayor Reno “spineless,” a “coward,” and “another do-nothing politician.”

A representative from Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative shared:

The fact that the Midlothian City Council voted against this ordinance proves that there is much work to be done in pro-life Texas. Our State has leaders in Austin standing for life, representing the people of Texas by passing aggressive abortion bans, but we lack that same pro-life representation with the Midlothian City Council. The Ellis County Republican Party should censor every one of those who voted against the passage of this ordinance which is supported by our Republican Party Platform.”

In 2020 the Republican Party of Texas adopted a platform plank that read, “We support the right of Texas municipalities to protect mothers and pre-born children in their communities by passing enforceable city ordinances that ban abortions and abortion industry businesses within their city limits.”

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which went into effect September 1, 2021, also supports cities like Midlothian passing local abortion bans. Section 311.036(b) of the Texas Government Code, which was enacted as part of the Texas Heartbeat Act, reads, “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.”

While some city leaders may not be comfortable with this greater restriction on abortion, the inclusion of this section stands well within the framework allowed for by the State of Texas. If passed, the Midlothian Ordinance Outlawing Abortion would have allowed private citizens to sue the abortionist and anyone who is aiding and abetting an abortion for any illegal abortion performed in Midlothian—from the moment of conception. This adds an extra layer of protection for the unborn within cities and helps combat illegal abortions in Midlothian.

In 1968, just a few years before the Supreme Court of the United States delivered their landmark opinion in Roe v. Wade (1973), abortion was illegal from the point of conception, and a county health officer by the name of Curtis Wayne Boyd performed more than 10,000 illegal abortions in Athens, Texas.

According to a director from Right To Life of East Texas, if the City of Athens had an ordinance on their books back then like the one proposed in Midlothian, many lives could have been saved.

In 1973, Boyd went on to open the first “legal” abortion facility in Texas and is personally responsible for committing more than 250,000 abortions on his own and more than 500,000 abortions through his facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dallas, Texas (which is now closed).

While abortion is currently outlawed from the point of conception in the entire state of Texas, private citizens in Midlothian are only allowed to sue the abortionist and anyone aiding and abetting an abortion for any illegal abortion performed in Midlothian (from the point of a detectable heartbeat).

After the vote, Altman shared, “Our committee worked hard to bring forward an ordinance that answered the concerns the council members expressed at the previous meeting and would have been effective in preventing abortion providers from operating in our city, regardless of what happened at other levels of government. While I am disappointed in the outcome, we will continue working with our community to make Midlothian a sanctuary city for life.”

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.