More than a week after voters in the city of Lubbock (population 264,000) voted to outlaw abortion in a landslide city-wide election, the cities of Abernathy (population 3,005) in West Texas and Poynor (population 314) in East Texas became the 27th and 28th cities in the nation to pass ordinances outlawing abortion. There’s interest in other cities throughout Texas as well, including Abilene, Levelland, and Odessa.
Out of the 28 sanctuary cities for the unborn, the City of Lubbock is the only city to have had the ordinance voted on by its citizens.
Lubbock, Abernathy, and Poynor are in conservative counties whose majority voted for President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Lubbock, which is in Lubbock County, saw Trump carry 65.3 percent of their county vote. When the City of Lubbock voted, a total of 62.5 percent approved outlawing abortion within city limits.
One can only imagine how other cities in much more conservative counties would fare. Hale County, which contains most of the City of Abernathy, saw Trump carry 74.9 percent of the vote. Trump carried Henderson County, where the City of Poynor is, by 79.6 percent. Lubbock’s mayor and city council voted unanimously against banning abortion, but the mayor and city council in both Abernathy and Poynor voted unanimously for it.
The Republican Party of Texas has been very clear about where they stand on cities outlawing abortion. The RPT 2020 platform reads, “We support the right of Texas municipalities to protect mothers and preborn children in their communities by passing enforceable city ordinances that ban abortions and abortion industry businesses within their city limits.” A total of 92.3 percent of RPT delegates voted in favor of this plank being added to the 2020 party platform.
Abernathy and Poynor will, most likely, not be the last cities to outlaw abortion through their city councils. Currently, many discussions are taking place with residents in cities like Abilene, Levelland, and Odessa.
The City of Abilene (pop. 123,420) falls in two counties, Taylor and Jones. In the 2020 presidential election, 71.7 percent of voters cast their ballot for Trump in Taylor County, while 84 percent cast their ballot for Trump in Jones County. In January of 2020, Abilene heard from 53 speakers on the possibility of passing an ordinance outlawing abortion.
The comments made by Abilene’s figureheads were similar to the comments made by Lubbock’s mayor and city council. Before January 2020’s public hearing, Abilene City Manager Robert Hanna said to Abilene Reporter-News, “My recommendation to council, based on advice from competent legal counsel, is that this ordinance or resolution is unconstitutional. … The city does not have the authority to regulate knee replacement surgery in the city limits. We do not have the authority to regulate abortions.” Hanna continued, “Until the Supreme Court of the United States overturns Roe v. Wade, it is my opinion that abortion remains a legal medical procedure in the United States.”
Likewise, City Attorney Stanley Smith said that the United States Supreme Court is the “final decision-maker as to what the Constitution means and what it says.” According to Smith, Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutionally protected right of privacy. He also took issue with the ordinances declaring abortion to be murder. Smith said performing an abortion “is not considered murder under the state penal code. … The state has already ruled on what murder is or is not.”
Councilman Shane Price, who put discussion of the ordinance on the agenda, went on record saying that he could not vote for something he knew was “illegal” as he emphasized how ordinances outlawing abortion were beyond the scope of their authority.
At the conclusion of the January 2020 city council meeting, Mayor Anthony Williams said, “This will not go on the shelf. Since we have put this up front in a very public way, we are going to respond in a very public way.” However, 16 months later, Mayor Williams hasn’t responded “in a very public way.”
In July 2020, Abilene Reporter-News stated that “the abortion issue was taken off the shelf in a very public way” at a “Declaration of Dependence and Celebration of Life” event with a local Christian radio station. Mayor Williams, who participated in the event, insisted that he was not participating in the event as “Mayor Anthony Williams” but as “Brother Anthony Williams.” The event was not sponsored by the city, nor did it have any official connection to city business. Williams was also clear at the gathering that the declaration he was signing was not to be interpreted as an official proclamation by the city.
While “Brother Anthony Williams” may be known for taking a stand, the fact remains that “Mayor Anthony Williams” hasn’t. Because of statements and actions like this, Abilene’s mayor has gained a reputation with many, both inside and outside the city, as someone who is all talk and little action.
Jim Baxa, president of the Lubbock-based group West Texas For Life, first approached the city about outlawing abortion in July of 2019 and again in January of 2020. Along with Baxa, the Abilene City Council was met at both gatherings by representatives from several pro-life groups across Texas, including Texas Right to Life, Right to Life of East Texas, and the Abilene-based West Texans for Life.
Baxa believes that Mayor Williams is dragging his feet. “Is Mayor Williams scared to do what Lubbock has already done with 62.5 percent of the electorate voting to outlaw abortion?” he asked. “I have spoken to many Abilene residents who want to see Abilene follow in the footsteps of Lubbock, and the only way that can be done is not through a sentimental, feel-good statement or resolution that does nothing, but an enforceable ordinance which makes clear that babies cannot legally be murdered by abortion in Abilene, Texas.”
Perhaps Mayor Williams is, like Mayor Dan Pope of Lubbock, someone who thinks the RPT platform is so far right that there are a lot of things he “cannot ascribe to.” Hopefully, this is not the case. Hopefully, Mayor Williams is in full support of this part of the platform in favor of cities passing enforceable ordinances outlawing abortion.
What about the objections of the city manager, city attorney, and Councilman Price? The objections leveled in Abilene were not new then, and they are most certainly not new now. In fact, the majority of the objections are based on a lack of understanding of both the ordinances and the laws and court rulings they work within.
Senators and representatives across the state, who all have pledged their allegiance to the Constitution, have supported the effort of cities to outlaw abortion and have lobbied for the ordinances to be passed in cities throughout Texas. One of the most public examples of this was when Lubbock State Sen. Charles Perry and State Reps. Dustin Burrows and John Frullo sent a letter urging the mayor and city council to pass the ordinance.
And when a law firm that had family ties to Planned Parenthood released its legal opinion against the ordinance, attorneys throughout Texas joined in a letter refuting the other firm’s major points. These attorneys had a different opinion of the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade than Attorney Stanley Smith.
“For too long, our cities have been all talk and no action,” said Joaquin Councilman Mike Cummings. Joaquin was the fourth city to pass an ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. “When it comes to the issue of abortion, people are not wanting a ‘do nothing’ resolution, but what people are wanting is a ‘do something’ law,” Cummings continued. “People do not want to see their cities just SAY they are pro-life, people want to see their cities BE pro-life by outlawing abortion!”
Another city where there is great interest in seeing abortion outlawed is Levelland (pop. 14,582), located in Hockley County. The city has gained more than 400 signatures of residents who want to see abortion outlawed within their city limits. Such interest should not be a great surprise to anyone. An overwhelming majority of those who vote in Hockley County are conservative Republican voters. During Hockley County’s 2020 presidential election, a whopping 80.7 percent voted for Trump.
Levelland’s city attorney, Matthew Wade, has been publicly criticized by Lynda Hester Farabee of the South Plains Patriots for his stance against the ordinance. “Does Mr. Wade believe that the right to abortion is in the Constitution? If he does, he is trying to establish a position that is not held by many of us here in West Texas,” Farabee wrote. “The Constitution doesn’t say a right to abortion exists. If we are wrong, we challenge Mr. Wade to publicly show the people of Hockley County just where in the Constitution this ‘right to abortion’ is to be found!”
Turning her attention to the nearby City of Ropesville (pop. 434), which has the same attorney as Levelland, Farabee continued, “State Sen. Charles Perry has already encouraged the City of Ropesville to pass this ordinance, but they have not yet done so. Why is this the case? Did their city attorney, Matt Wade, discourage them from adopting the ordinance? Does Mr. Wade tell the city council when to jump and how far? Or does the Ropesville City Council make up their own minds? Does Mr. Wade influence other city councils, thus becoming ‘the boss of us?’”
The City of Levelland will discuss the possibility of passing an ordinance outlawing abortion at their council meeting on Monday, May 17.
While the Mayor of Abilene has been noncommittal on passing an ordinance outlawing abortion, the Mayor of Odessa (pop. 123,334) has been the complete opposite. Not only has Mayor Javier Joven spoken in local churches throughout his city on the subject, but Joven has also spoken at many rallies in support of the initiative—both before and after his landslide mayoral election.
Odessa is located in Ector County, a very conservative county. While Ector County is not as conservative as Hockley County, it is more conservative than Lubbock County. During Ector County’s 2020 presidential election, 73.3 percent voted in favor of President Trump.
Mayor Joven most recently spoke on the effort on Saturday, May 8, at a local “Make Odessa A Sanctuary For Life” rally. Joven and Councilmembers Denise Swanner and Mark Matta shared heart-wrenching testimonies about why the Sanctuary City for the Unborn Initiative means so much to each of them. All three have publicly lobbied for its passage as they believe the outlawing of abortion is what the citizens of their community truly want.
Big Spring Mayor Shannon Thomason, Whiteface Mayor Judy Deavors, and former Whiteface Councilmember Stephanie Nunn were also in attendance at the event, sharing their experiences outlawing abortion within their city limits. Each one, all having seen abortion outlawed more than a year ago, had no regrets for outlawing it in their cities.
Throughout the process of cities outlawing abortion, the Big Spring Mayor has recognized just how many cities seem to struggle with city managers and city attorneys forgetting their role in the city government. “A city council, as the duly elected representatives of the citizens, are the authors of public policy for a city,” Mayor Thomason shared. “City managers, city attorneys, and other staff are the instruments of that policy.”
“All too often in the push to protect the unborn, the unelected bureaucrats seem to be using their positions to undermine the efforts of the people’s representatives to exercise the will of those they represent,” Mayor Thomason continued. “I personally find this practice reprehensible and possibly a criminal violation of Texas statutes against official misconduct. If the bureaucrats want to enact public policy changes, they should resign their well-paid positions and run for city office, most of which are essentially unpaid volunteer positions. Otherwise, they should do the jobs they were hired to do. If a council passes an ordinance they don’t like, they can always seek employment elsewhere.”
As more and more cities contemplate outlawing abortion, the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative is experiencing a record number of phone calls about the movement and a record number of submitted online petitions. From cities like Abilene, Levelland, and Odessa in West Texas to cities like Athens, Canton, and Tyler in East Texas, residents everywhere are saying, “We should outlaw abortion in our city. Now, why haven’t we?”
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