On Tuesday, the city of Odessa (pop. 125,413) became the 49th city in the state of Texas, and the 62nd in America, to pass an enforceable ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. Odessa is the second city in Ector County to have passed an ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. Goldsmith (pop. 257), the only other incorporated city in Ector County, passed their ordinance on February 10, 2021.

Ector is a county known for its conservative values. During the 2020 presidential election, 73.33% (32,697) of voters in Ector County voted Republican, 25.49% (11,367) voted Democrat, and 1.18% (527) 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 on the following statement: “I believe abortion should be abolished in Texas.” Out of Ector County’s 8,025 votes, 5,821 voted in favor of the idea of abolishing abortion in the state of Texas, and 2,204 voted against the idea of abolishing abortion in the state of Texas.

Before she was even a member of the Odessa City Council, Denise Swanner expressed a desire to see the city of Odessa become a sanctuary city for the unborn. At an event held December 6, 2020 at River of Hope Church, Swanner shared a story about the power of adoption. “I would love for Odessa to become a sanctuary city for the unborn,” she said. Swanner went on to explain how her life experiences deepened her pro-life convictions. “My daughter’s birth-mother placed my daughter in my arms 25 years ago. I will never forget when my daughter’s birth-mother quoted 1 Kings 3:26 to me and how the Lord had placed that verse heavy upon her heart. After she quoted this verse, she said to me, ‘Rather than kill my child by abortion, I give her life,’ as she placed her daughter in my arms.”

The same was true for Mark Matta. Before he was even elected to city council, at the same meeting, Matta shared, “I pray that this city, the city of Odessa, becomes a sanctuary city for the unborn. It’s time to stand up, and protect, and be the voice for the innocent lives that have been killed.”

Javier Joven, also expressed that same interest prior to his election as Mayor of Odessa. And, once Joven became Mayor, Joven shared, “Odessa is a city full of people who value all human life, both born and unborn. We are a city with a pregnancy resource center right across the street from our City Hall and that facility, which is called The Life Center, stands ready and willing to help any mother who finds herself in an unexpected pregnancy,” Joven continued, “We want what they stand for within the walls of the Life Center across the street to be what we stand for within the walls of our City Hall. We want the City of Odessa to be a city that stands for life.”

On December 13, 2022 Mayor Javier Joven finally got to see that vision become a reality, as he was joined by Councilmembers Denise Swanner, Mark Matta, Chris Hanie, Greg Connell, and Gilbert Vasquez in a 6-1 vote in favor of the city of Odessa outlawing abortion and becoming a sanctuary city for the unborn. The only council member who voted against the ordinance was Councilman Steve Thompson.

After the December 13 council meeting, Mayor Javier Joven shared, “It took two years, but we finally did it. We are finally a ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn.’” Reflecting on the last two years, Joven shared, “If you do not have the votes on your city council to protect pregnant mothers and their unborn children by keeping abortion out of your community, then do your part to get the right people into office who will protect pregnant mothers and their unborn children by keeping abortion out of your community.”

The Odessa Ordinance is enforced through private civil enforcement, prohibits abortion and aiding or abetting an abortion within the city limits of Odessa, prohibits abortion-inducing drugs within the city limits of Odessa, prohibits abortions performed on Odessa residents regardless of where those abortions take place, prohibits human trafficking at any stage within the city limits of Odessa, and prohibits the City of Odessa from entering into any contract with any business which seeks to fund abortions – regardless of where those abortions may occur. The ordinance also aligns itself with federal laws on abortion, citing 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461–62, which prohibits the mailing of abortion inducing drugs and abortion paraphernalia.

In addition to these things, the ordinance goes out of its way to highlight the funds which are available to Texas residents who find themselves experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, referring them to services found at the Texas Pregnancy Care Network website at www.texaspregnancy.org.

While the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative is continuing to advance into states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Minnesota – the movement is far from finished in the State of Texas. The Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative is expected to have meetings in Amarillo and Midland in the coming months about the possibilities of their cities moving forward to become some of the next Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn. Those who are interested in seeing their city pass a similar ordinance to Odessa are encouraged to sign the online petition.

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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