Oct 23 (Reuters) – Commissioners in Lubbock County, Texas, voted on Monday to ban the act of transporting another person on their roads for an abortion, part of a strategy by conservative activists to further restrict abortion from that the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. .wade.
The move makes Lubbock the largest jurisdiction so far to pass such a restriction on abortion-related transportation since the end of Roe in June 2022, which had granted a nationwide right to abortion. Six Texas cities and counties have approved the bans, out of nine that have considered them.
A few hours north, the Amarillo City Council on Tuesday will weigh its own bill, which could lead to a future council or citywide vote.
Lubbock and Amarillo are crisscrossed by major highways connecting Texas, which has one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, with neighboring New Mexico, where abortion is legal.
Anti-abortion activists who support the proposals say they are intended to strengthen Texas’ existing abortion ban, which allows private citizens to sue anyone who provides or “aides or abets” an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Several supporters who spoke at the Lubbock rally were affiliated with anti-abortion organizations near the New Mexico-Texas border.
“Every day we see cars pulling up to the abortion clinic, most of the time women with Texas license plates,” said Jewel Navarrette of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Opponents of the measure said it would scare those seeking abortions, but would not reduce abortions.
“Travel bans are unconstitutional, folks,” said Lubbock resident Shelley Kemp.
No violations have been reported in the five jurisdictions that previously adopted the bans, and their reliance on citizen enforcement makes them difficult to challenge in court.
The biggest impact of the ordinances so far appears to be how each side is using them to galvanize voters and pursue larger political goals heading into an election year in which abortion remains a hot-button issue.
Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish said at Monday’s meeting that he knew some attendees had come “to threaten the gentlemen here on the bench in order to elect people who will push their personal political agendas.”
Parrish said he supported the intent of the measure, but that it needed to be amended to recognize the county’s limited legislative power. “I keep wondering what this ordinance is trying to accomplish legally,” he said.
He joined another commissioner in abstaining from the vote, while three commissioners voted in favor of the measure.
BOTH SIDES MOBILIZE
The campaign to ban abortion-related traffic in Texas was started by Mark Lee Dickson, a Christian pastor who began pressuring communities to ban abortion by declaring “Sanctuary cities for the unborn” in 2019.
At Monday’s meeting in Lubbock County, Dickson stressed the importance of passing the transportation ban at a time “when a lot of things are changing in our culture.” He described the current US administration as “the most aggressive pro-abortion administration in American history.”
Dickson travels a lot to present his measurements. He also mobilizes his supporters to overthrow local leaders who oppose the proposals, with the goal of electing officials who also push other far-right policies.
He took that approach in Odessa’s 2022 municipal election, after the council initially blocked one of his “sanctuary city for the unborn” proposals. Dickson responded by rallying support for council candidates who pledged to pass it.
Once elected, the candidates he endorsed not only declared Odessa a “sanctuary city,” but also adopted the state’s first ban on transportation of abortions and took other steps Dickson supported, such as rejecting state and federal mandates related to COVID-19.
“This doesn’t end when an issue is addressed,” Dickson said in an interview before Monday’s vote.
However, not all supporters of abortion restrictions support Dickson’s transportation bans.
Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley said he supported Dickson’s “sanctuary city” movement, but worries that transportation bans rely on civil law enforcement and don’t clarify what local authorities are expected to do, which could entangle the city in investigations launched by private actors.
Debates over transportation bans are prompting new shows of support for abortion access.
In Lubbock County, Kimberleigh Gonzalez organized a local Facebook group of 1,100 reproductive rights supporters to show their opposition to the measure at Monday’s meeting.
The group was formed after Lubbock voters passed a “sanctuary city” ordinance endorsed by Dickson in May 2021. Each new attack on reproductive rights “brings us together a little more,” González said.
“Since 2021, I personally know a lot of people who are involved who weren’t before, and this continues to grow and get stronger,” he said.
Abortion rights supporters, including four abortion funds in Texas, said they hoped the transportation bans would backfire on the anti-abortion movement by galvanizing political participation by abortion rights advocates in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election. next year.
“We’re going to make sure this has political and electoral consequences,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March activist organization.
Start your morning with top legal news delivered straight to your inbox from The daily file.
Reporting by Julia Harte Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.