Over the weekend, residents of Lubbock, Texas voted to pass an unconstitutional and likely unenforceable ordinance banning abortion in the city and designating the town as a so-called “sanctuary city for the unborn”. The bill marks abortion as murder, declaring it “unlawful” to help someone get an abortion. And alarmingly, it allows family members of the person who received an abortion to sue the abortion provider, along with anyone who offered assistance like money or transportation. While not the first city or town in Texas to pass the ordinance, which has been pushed in recent years by anti-abortion activists in Texas, Lubbock is the largest—and it’s the only city with such a ban that actually has an abortion clinic in town.
Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land: abortions are legal in every state of the country, and the city’s elected officials have stated in the past that the ban is both unconstitutional and unable to be enforced by city officials. But the ordinance, according to the ACLU of Texas political strategist Drucilla Tigner, will impact abortion access from the very first day it’s in effect, which according to Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope could be as soon as June 1. In an interview with Jezebel, Tigner pointed to the radical provisions in the ordinance that allow for private citizens to file lawsuits against providers as well as against people who offer material support to abortion seekers—essentially giving private citizens enforcement powers. “In its most extreme form, a rape counselor,” Tigner noted, who offers information on abortion options is “now open to lawsuits under this ordinance from day one.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this ordinance is going to have a chilling effect on abortion access in Lubbock,” Tigner added.
The ordinance is part of a broader effort to restrict already extremely limited abortion access, and its influence can be seen in some of the bills currently moving through the Republican-dominated Texas legislature, most notably in a bill that would ban almost all abortions. That bill, like the ordinance that passed in Lubbock, includes a provision that gives private citizens the right to enforce its provisions. “It’s a clear attempt to find an end-run around the Constitution,” Tigner said.
The passage of the ordinance is the culmination of a years-long effort by an emboldened and increasingly radicalized anti-abortion movement to encourage towns and cities in Texas to pass abortion bans and in some cases, criminalize the work of abortion providers and reproductive justice organizations and advocates, an effort that has been led by the pastor and anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson. The push behind the ordinance gained steam when a Planned Parenthood clinic opened in Lubbock in 2020, replacing a clinic that had been forced to close in 2013 after Republicans in the state passed laws restricting abortion clinics’s ability to operate. While the city’s council declined to take up the ordinance due to a belief that it was unconstitutional and unenforceable and would mire the city in a costly legal challenge, anti-abortion activists had gathered enough signatures to put the ordinance up for a vote.
After the ordinance passed on Saturday, Dickson demanded that the newly opened Planned Parenthood in Lubbock, which recently began offering medication abortions according to its website, stop providing abortions. “Now that the voters have spoken, we expect Planned Parenthood to respect the outcome of this election and cease providing abortions at its Lubbock clinic,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
It’s unclear what the short-term implications are for the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lubbock, which, according to its website, recently began providing medication abortions. (Jezebel reached out to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, and will update this story with their response.) In a statement released on Saturday, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas wrote that it is “committed to its patients and will follow legal restrictions as required.” “We are committed to expanding access to abortion and will provide abortion services when possible in Lubbock,” wrote Sarah Wheat, the Chief External Affairs Officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. She added, “We want Lubbock residents to know: Our doors are open and we will continue to advocate for our patients, no matter what.”
According to one legal scholar, due to the nature of the ordinance, any legal challenge would have to be initiated by a lawsuit against Planned Parenthood. Via the Texas Tribune, which wrote about the ordinance before it passed:
Richard D. Rosen, a constitutional law professor at Texas Tech University, said the proposed ordinance tries to make a “clever end run around Roe.”
Because local officials wouldn’t enforce the prohibition if it’s passed, ordinance proponents say there’d be no one for abortion providers to sue to stop the ban from taking effect. Instead, Rosen expects a private citizen would sue Planned Parenthood and the legal fight would go from there.
Rosen expects the ordinance would be “DOA” — dead on arrival — in the courts, but it might cost a lot of money for abortion rights proponents to defend.
“As long as Roe is good law, I think these suits will ultimately fail, but it [could make] abortion providers ... expend money for attorneys’ fees, and it takes time,” Rosen said.
As Tigner put it to Jezebel, as the ACLU figures out a response, “all options are on the table.”