More than two years after being sued by several abortion advocacy groups for defamation, Mark Lee Dickson and Right to Life of East Texas have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Supreme Court of Texas.
Mark Lee Dickson is the director of Right to Life of East Texas and the founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn movement, which has successfully lobbied to outlaw abortion in 65 cities in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Ohio, and Iowa. In June of 2020, he was sued by the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, the Afiya Center, and the Texas Equal Access Fund for calling them “criminal” organizations” that “murder innocent unborn children.”
In its unanimous ruling, which was written by Justice Jane Bland, the Supreme Court of Texas stated that “the challenged statements are protected opinion about abortion law made in pursuit of changing that law, placing them at the heart of protected speech under the United States and Texas Constitutions.”
The Court noted that Dickson “did not urge or threaten violence, nor did he misrepresent the underlying conduct in expressing his opinions about it.” Accordingly, pursuant to the criteria of the Texas Citizens Participation Act—known as the state’s “Anti-SLAPP law”—the lawsuits were dismissed as attempts to “chill a citizen’s exercise of free speech.”
Justice John Devine, in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Jimmy Blacklock, added that “because the statutory provision criminalizing the funding of abortion remained on the books in Texas, it is indisputably true that the Funds are criminal organizations under Texas law, even if Roe’s erroneous holding prevented enforcement of the law when the challenged statements were made.”
“I am thankful that the Lilith Fund, who shares a name with a demon that preys on women and children, lost their case before the Supreme Court of Texas. I hope that the Lilith Fund, and every demon in Texas, gets out of the baby-murdering business entirely,” Dickson told Texas Scorecard.
The Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn movement began in 2019 when Dickson persuaded the city of Waskom, Texas, to outlaw abortion within its city limits, becoming the first in the nation to do so. The five-member city council unanimously passed an ordinance that banned the operation of seven abortion providers and advocacy groups within the city and even labeled them as “criminal organizations,” a characterization Dickson repeated when he posted about the ordinance on social media.
The ordinance’s passage prompted two of the named organizations to pay for a billboard along Interstate 20 in Waskom that stated “Abortion is Freedom.” After a number of other cities joined the movement to outlaw abortion within their jurisdictions, CNN published an article on Dickson and his efforts.
In 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Waskom and six other cities that had outlawed abortion for discriminating against the aforementioned groups by labeling them “criminal organizations.” The cities removed that language from their ordinances without altering their intended effect, and the ACLU dropped the lawsuit. A few months later, Dickson and Right to Life of East Texas were sued on similar grounds.