State Sen. Kevin Sparks (R-Midland) and State Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) have sparked some controversy with statements they have made in the Amarillo Globe-News, regarding their thoughts on the passage of an ordinance that would outlaw abortion and abortion trafficking in the City of Amarillo. Their statements have drawn comments from community leaders and elected officials from the Panhandle to the Caprock to the Permian Basin.
Rep. Smithee’s Statement in the Amarillo Globe-News
In an Amarillo Globe-News article from December 24, Rep. John Smithee weighed in on the Amarillo City Council considering an anti-abortion ordinance. It was reported that Smithee said he “had full faith in the council coming to a conclusion that will be right for the community.” Referencing the private-enforcement mechanism found in the Sanctuary City for the Unborn (SCFTU) ordinances, Smithee went on to say, “It’s probably not a good situation to encourage a neighbor to sue a neighbor in a civil suit… That really does not fit our community here. Most of us try to have a good relationship with each other. I do not think you have to adopt some cookie cutter resolution that other cities have passed.”
Peggy Carter Thomas, Amarillo SCFTU initiating committee member and regent at Amarillo College, shared, “As a concerned citizen of Amarillo, I am disappointed that Representative Smithee made disparaging comments related to the private enforcement mechanism found in our proposed ordinance. Crime Stoppers in Amarillo is technically ‘neighbor turning in neighbor’ as well. The Republican Party of Texas Platform, in Plank #217(j), supports the private enforcement mechanism being added to all pro-life laws and policies in the State of Texas. Since Representative Smithee is a Republican and publicly supports the Republican Party of Texas Platform, I cannot understand why he would not be on board with this.”
Amarillo resident Kim Schrader shared, “I find Representative Smithee’s statement regarding ‘suing your neighbor’ to be very concerning for several reasons. First off, we are talking about a neighbor attempting to save an innocent unborn baby from being killed by another neighbor. Secondly, has Representative Smithee forgotten that this is how the Texas Heartbeat Act is written? Does Representative Smithee believe that it is not a good situation for ‘neighbors to sue neighbors’ for violations of the Texas Heartbeat Act? Is he saying that this type of enforcement mechanism is a good fit for Texas but not Amarillo?”
Schrader continued, “I personally have voted elected officials like Representative Smithee into office based on their Christian principles, morals, and values, hoping that I would be represented, and now I find myself questioning if they even support the laws that they have already passed. We have an ordinance before us to help give us what the Texas Heartbeat Act and other pro-life laws in Texas do not. Is it just lip service, at this point, when these officials say they are pro-life? Where is the action? What law, in the state of Texas, is stopping the abortion trafficking of pregnant mothers across state lines for the purpose of an elective abortion? What law is protecting that unborn child being taken to be killed in New Mexico?
“Representative Smithee is not the only elected representative I am upset with. There are others that fall in that same category as well. I am insulted as an Amarillo resident whose vote seems to be good enough to get them into office, but my ability to handle what my city faces comes into question when and where it is needed. Do they really believe the residents of Amarillo are stupid or incapable of doing what is right when it comes to our neighbor? Amarillo residents who want to protect life have a right to make that choice,” Schrader concluded.
Amarillo resident Robin Ross has also been very disappointed with Smithee’s lack of support of the proposed Amarillo SCFTU ordinance. “It breaks my heart that Representative Smithee, who I know is pro-life, has made some statements discouraging the use of the private enforcement mechanism in a city ordinance designed to help protect the lives of pre-born babies and their parents.” Ross continued, “I guess what is so baffling about all of this is the fact that Representative Smithee supported the Texas Heartbeat Act and knows just how effective the private enforcement mechanism has been in saving the lives of innocent pre-born babies throughout the State of Texas.”
When State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) was asked of the importance of the private enforcement mechanism found in the SCFTU Ordinances, Rep. Burrows shared, “The private cause of action is an essential component of these laws and ordinances, because it works. When Texas passed the Heartbeat Act, it was revolutionary because it contained the private cause of action providing private citizens the ability to sue abortionists and those who aid and abet them. What this means is: We, the people, do not have to wait around for a government agency or prosecutor to take action. Instead, we can immediately file a lawsuit and proceed to the courthouse. The threat of these lawsuits, the speed at which they can be brought and the threat to the finances of abortionists makes this a real and effective deterrent to the abortion industry in Texas.”
Senator Sparks’ Statement in the Amarillo Globe-News
In an Amarillo Globe-News article from January 28, State Sen. Kevin Sparks weighed in on Amarillo and other cities and counties passing such measures. Sparks shared, “I believe every life should be valued, but it is problematic for communities to try and pass more regulations than laws than the state on abortion.”
Sparks continued, “This makes it very challenging across the state. Even though you may feel very strongly about this, what it does is kind of break down the system. What keeps a really liberal community from establishing a law in the same manner? I think it’s a Pandora’s box that is being opened up. I do believe the way our state constitution is written, it is more appropriate to address that as a state issue rather than a community issue.”
The statement did not sit well with many throughout the City of Amarillo. On Wednesday, January 31, four Republican precinct chairs and several other residents found themselves on a conference call with a representative of Senator Sparks’ office. The conversation with Carter Moxley, who serves as Senator Sparks’ Director of Operations, is said to have lasted about two hours. During the meeting, Moxley repeatedly stressed that Senator Sparks was pro-life. The meeting ended with the citizens requesting Senator Sparks to retract his statement in the Amarillo Globe-News and sign onto an open letter that has been signed by twenty senators and representatives across the State of Texas in favor of prohibiting abortion trafficking.
After the meeting, precinct chair Cathy Welch shared, “I am appalled at the apparent collusion amongst area elected officials to enable the mass murder of babies. It is not enough to say you are pro-life, your actions have to demonstrate that you are pro-life.” Welch stated that Sparks’ concern that abortion bans open a “Pandora’s Box” is a concern being shared today and is a concern that has been shared before – even by Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the Executive Director of the national Women’s March, who now lives in Amarillo, Texas. In a Twitter post from October 12, 2021, Carmona criticized the Texas Heartbeat Act, tweeting, “If #SB8 is upheld in court, it will unleash a pandora’s box of laws aimed to attack our constitutional rights.”
Welch, disagreeing with Sparks’ and Carmona’s view that abortion bans can open up a “Pandora’s Box,” continued, “Abortion bans should not be viewed as ‘problematic’ for pro-life elected officials. Abortion bans save the lives of innocent human beings and no elected official should be getting in the way of good legislation that protects innocent human life. The reason why I am so passionate about this is that we can save thousands upon thousands of lives if we can shut down the pipeline of abortion access.” Welch concluded, “The real ‘Pandora’s Box’ is the revelation of how many of our allegedly conservative elected officials have, on this issue, seem to be more aligned with the talking points of individuals involved in Soros-funded groups than the conservative Republican Party of Texas Platform.”
Amarillo resident Wendy Blake Frick said that if she could say anything to Senator Kevin Sparks, she would quote Doug Johnson’s character in the movie Unplanned, who said, “These are little babies, with a little brain, and little hearts, little fingers, little toes.” Frick continued, “Our preborn Texans deserve just as much protection as every other Texas resident. In the January 28 edition of the Amarillo Globe News, Senator Sparks rightfully lauded Governor Abbott for using ‘new and creative ways’ to secure our border. He also mentioned ‘wanting to increase penalties for human smuggling,’ and we applaud him for that. This ordinance is also a ‘new and creative way’ to further protect preborn Texans from being smuggled or trafficked to be killed in other states. Evil men and women are making beaucoups off of the most innocent in our society, and it has to stop!”
The statement by Senator Sparks was viewed as a direct slap in the face to many “Sanctuaries for the Unborn” throughout Senate District 31. Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn throughout Senate District 31 include Westbrook (pop. 312), Colorado City (pop. 4,146), Big Spring (pop. 28,862), Whiteface (pop. 449), Morton (pop. 2,006), Ackerly (pop. 251), Goldsmith (pop. 257), Sterling City (pop. 888), Nazareth (pop. 311), and Odessa (pop. 125,413). Sanctuary Counties for the Unborn throughout the district include Mitchell County (pop. 9,070), Cochran County (pop. 2,547), and Dawson County (pop. 12,130).
Upon hearing the statement from Senator Sparks, City of Odessa Mayor Javier Joven responded, “The quote, ‘All Politics is local,’ first coined in 1932, gained popularity through the influential Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neal. This expression emphasizes the significance of addressing local issues and concerns within the realm of politics. Indeed, it is crucial for city and county governments to set and protect community standards, particularly when it comes to contentious matters such as banning abortion and combating human trafficking.”
Mayor Joven continued, “Frequently, we witness instances where state legislatures fall short in comprehensively addressing the challenges and needs faced by rural communities. City and county governments play a vital role in addressing pressing issues such as abortion bans and human trafficking. Their proximity to the community allows for better representation, prompt responses, and tailored approaches to combat these challenges.” He concluded, “Local governments can effectively protect community standards while proactively responding to the unique needs of rural communities. Thus, local governments should actively take charge and lead the way in upholding community values, ensuring a safer and more prosperous society for all.”
Odessa passed their ordinance prohibiting abortion and abortion trafficking and declaring their city a SCFTU in December of 2022.
Senator Sparks’ statement also caught the attention of Pastor Chance Nichols, Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Big Spring. Pastor Nichols was one of the pastors who led the charge to see Big Spring become a SCFTU in January of 2020. Pastor Nichols stated, “As a pastor ministering in a ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn,’ I find Senator Sparks’ comment disheartening. He states, ‘I believe every life should be valued, but …’ And therein lies the problem. How many innocent lives have been sacrificed because our representatives have added a ‘but’? The Word of God is clear. Each and every child conceived in the womb bears the image of her Creator. Each and every pre-born child is being knit together by his heavenly Father. So, every life should be valued, no ‘ifs,’ no ‘ands,’ and no ‘buts’ added.”
When asked about Senator Sparks’ statement, Representative Dustin Burrows shared, “City and County ordinances preventing abortion and abortion trafficking are important tools to protect life, and I am encouraged to see them being adopted across the State. I may be most reticent of all legislators when it comes to local jurisdictions passing ordinances [see HB 2127 aka “The Death Star Bill”]; however, the protection of life is the first obligation of government, and adequate protections already exist in State statute preventing liberal city councils from passing ordinances that would water down the protections for the unborn in State statute.”
During the 87th Legislative Session (2021), the State of Texas passed the Texas Heartbeat Act which 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 the Texas Heartbeat Act, the Legislature also was clear to state “that the State of Texas never repealed, either expressly or by implication, the state statutes enacted before the ruling in Roe v. Wade that prohibit and criminalize abortion unless the Mother’s life is in danger,” thereby recognizing the pre-Roe v. Wade abortion statutes that prohibited abortion from the point of conception as the law of Texas.
The effort to see Amarillo become a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” which is now being pursued by the citizen initiative process, has had to battle much misinformation from pro-life elected officials and pro-abortion organizations. The effort to educate the citizens of Amarillo on the proposed SCFTU ordinance is out there and is believed to be making a difference—even if the proposed ordinance has not been supported by Amarillo’s state leadership.
Amarillo Initiating Committee Member John Barrett shared, “When I knock on doors, once the introduction is made, the common reaction is ‘I support this. Where do I sign?’ In one situation, the resident said, ‘I’m very familiar with this, and I know what’s happening. I fully support this. Where do I sign?’ What this tells me is that Senator Sparks, Representative Smithee, and some of our other elected officials are sadly out of touch with their constituents.” While Barrett has been frustrated with what he perceives to be a disconnect, Barrett believes that Amarillo’s state and local leaders are men whose minds can be changed.
The proposed ordinance, if passed, would do the following: (1) prohibit elective abortions and the aiding or abetting of elective abortions within city limits—extending the private enforcement mechanism found in the Texas Heartbeat Act from the point of detectable heartbeat to the point of conception, (2) prohibit elective abortions or the aiding or abetting of elective abortions on residents who live within the city limits—regardless of the location of the abortion, (3) prohibit the manufacturing, possession, or distribution of abortion-inducing drugs within the city limits, (4) prohibit the abortion trafficking of an unborn child and the aiding or abetting of the abortion trafficking of an unborn child within the city limits—making it illegal for abortion traffickers to use any roads or runways within the city limits, (5) prohibit the transport of the remains of unborn children who have been killed by an elective abortion from any abortion provider into the city limits, prohibiting also the disposal of such remains within the city limits, and (6) prohibit organizations seeking to profit off of the murder of innocent unborn children from operating or doing business within the city limits.
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