Another West Texas county has voted to adopt an ordinance outlawing abortion and abortion trafficking within its unincorporated area, making it the fifth Texas county to pass the ordinance.

The Dawson County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to adopt a “Sanctuary for the Unborn” ordinance, which prohibits the killing of an unborn child via abortion within the unincorporated part of Dawson County. 

“The Dawson County Commissioners’ Court finds all unborn children are human beings who are entitled to the full and equal protection of the laws that prohibit violence against other human beings,” reads the ordinance. “The Dawson County Commissioners’ Court finds that Texas men and women are being hurt and traumatized by abortion across our Texas–New Mexico border and sent back to Texas for our county and our cities to deal with the aftermath in our homes, schools, churches, and the hospitals utilized by our residents.”

The ordinance prohibits the performing of elective abortions and the aiding and abetting of abortions performed on residents. It also prohibits abortion-inducing drugs and prohibits the transport and disposal of aborted fetal remains from any abortion provider within the unincorporated area of Dawson County. 

Furthermore, it 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.” The section only applies if the transportation of an individual begins, ends, or passes through the unincorporated area of Dawson County. It also makes it illegal for anyone to use sections of U.S. Highway 87, 180, State Highway 137, and all sections of all roads found in the unincorporated area of Dawson County for the purpose of abortion trafficking.

The ordinance is only enforced through the same private enforcement mechanism found in the Texas Heartbeat Act. It allows private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone found to be violating the ordinance, with the exception that no lawsuits can be filed against the mother of the unborn child. 

Dawson County Attorney Steven Payson weighed in on the issue, saying the ordinance is “just a way of saying, ‘Don’t do it in our county.'” 

“It’s a great way of saying, ‘That’s all, Boys, go get them,’ but it’s somebody else’s fight. We don’t have any risk. To me, it’s really a non-issue, when it comes to the county’s possible liability. It’s not a criminal law. It’s a lawsuit,” Payson added.

Mark Lee Dickson, a director with Right to Life of East Texas and the founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative, told Texas Scorecard that “America is divided between ‘states where unborn babies cannot be killed’ and ‘states where unborn babies can be killed.’ No pro-life conservative should be okay with this scenario.”  

“Abortion is a great moral, social, and political evil that must be abolished in every single state in America. The Dawson County Sanctuary County for the Unborn Ordinance works to that end,” he added.

In October, seven members of the New Mexico state legislature signed a letter urging Texas city and county officials to “further the passage of ordinances outlawing abortion and abortion trafficking within their jurisdictions.”

“Since September 2021, when the Texas Heartbeat Act went into effect, we have seen over 1,000 abortions per month come into the State of New Mexico from the State of Texas. Not only has this influx of abortions caused the deaths of many innocent Texans, but it is putting an extreme burden on our limited healthcare system in New Mexico,” wrote the legislators. “This may lead to a significant health crisis in the State of New Mexico if reasonable measures are not passed on abortion trafficking within the State of Texas, as our health system cannot handle the significant number of emergencies that are the result of the influx of approximately 11,000 Texas abortions per year. As state legislators we stand concerned about the impact this has on the health, safety, and enjoyment of life of the residents of New Mexico and those who are visiting from the state of Texas.”

In addition to Dawson County, four other counties in Texas have adopted similar ordinances, including Lubbock County, Cochran County, Goliad County, and Mitchell County. 

Following the Dawson County Commissioners’ unanimous vote to approve Monday, the ordinance went into effect immediately. 

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.