Abortion has been outlawed in Mitchell County, Texas (pop. 9,070), with several protections being added to protect pregnant mothers and their unborn children under their jurisdiction. 

On the morning of Friday, July 14, the county commission considered a Sanctuary County for the Unborn ordinance that had been proposed by a director from Right To Life of East Texas at their regularly scheduled commission meeting on Monday, July 10.

The passage of the ordinance “Outlawing Abortion Within the Unincorporated Area of Mitchell County” made Mitchell County the first sanctuary county for the unborn in the State of Texas and the third in the United States. The motion was made by Commissioner Jeremy Strain and seconded by Commissioner Dennis Jones.

After the passage of the ordinance, Commissioner Jeremy Strain shared, “What a monumental day for Mitchell County. I’m so excited that we get to lead the way for the state of Texas. We stand and fight for the unborn, the ones who can’t fight for themselves. I hope and pray other counties throughout the state will jump on board and lead by doing the same.”

The Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative has seen a total of 67 cities and three counties pass ordinances in seven different states—all prohibiting abortion within their jurisdiction.

The Texas initiative was birthed out of a law passed during the 86th Legislative Session that prohibited any political subdivision of the State of Texas from using taxpayer dollars to fund any abortion provider or any affiliate of an abortion provider. In the prohibition, the Texas Legislature made clear that the law could not be construed to restrict a municipality or county from prohibiting abortion.

The relevant statute, Texas Government Code § 2272.005, reads, “This chapter may not be construed to restrict a municipality or county from prohibiting abortion.” While it was believed that cities and counties could prohibit abortion even without this statute, the statute was a welcome addition to the laws of the State of Texas.

What really gives counties the explicit ability to pass such ordinances, however, is a law that was passed during the 87th Legislative Session. During the 87th Legislative Session, the State of Texas explicitly allowed political subdivisions to outlaw and prohibit abortion and to establish penalties and remedies against those who perform or enable unlawful abortions. Texas Government Code § 311.036(b), 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.”

In addition to prohibiting abortion within the unincorporated area of Mitchell County, the ordinance prohibits the performing of elective abortions and the aiding or abetting of abortions performed on residents of the unincorporated area of Mitchell County “regardless of the location of the abortion, regardless of the law in the jurisdiction where the abortion occurred, and regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion was performed or induced on a resident of the unincorporated area of Mitchell County.”

The ordinance also prohibits abortion-inducing drugs within the unincorporated area of Mitchell County and prohibits abortion trafficking by making it unlawful “for any person to knowingly transport any individual for the purpose of providing or obtaining an elective abortion, regardless of where the elective abortion will occur” as long as such activity “begins, ends, or passes through the unincorporated area of Mitchell County.” This means that it is now illegal for anyone to use the sections of Interstate 20, Highway 84, and all other roads found in the unincorporated area of Mitchell County for the purpose of abortion trafficking.

Like the Texas Heartbeat Act, the Mitchell County Ordinance is only enforced through a private enforcement mechanism—allowing lawsuits to be filed by citizens against anyone who is in violation of the ordinance. If a grandmother witnessed her grandchild being picked up in the unincorporated area of Mitchell County to be taken to another state for an abortion, this ordinance would give that grandmother an avenue to threaten to sue or to sue the person who picked up her grandchild. The ordinance does not allow for any lawsuit to be filed against the mother of the unborn child, but it would allow for action to be taken against those who are assisting the mother in the killing of her unborn child. Not only could the grandmother sue the person who picked up her grandchild, but she could also sue the abortion assistance organization that paid for her grandchild’s travel expenses.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, upon hearing of the victory, shared, “I am proud that Mitchell County is the first county to declare itself a sanctuary for the unborn. This is a huge victory for the pro-life movement in Texas.” Burrows continued, “Thank you to all of the grassroots advocates who worked tirelessly to make this a reality, and for the commissioners who showed political courage to vote this into law.”

More Sanctuary Counties for the Unborn in Texas are expected in the near future. Residents who are interested in seeing their county pass an ordinance outlawing abortion trafficking are encouraged to sign the online petition at the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative website.

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.