Texas City Cleared To Become Anti-Abortion ‘Sanctuary City’ As Federal Judge Dismisses Planned Parenthood Challenge
A local law in Lubbock, Texas, that allows relatives of an unborn child to sue an abortion provider was held up in federal court Wednesday against a challenge from Planned Parenthood, potentially providing a legal path for other cities declaring themselves so-called “sanctuary cities for the unborn” by making abortions hard or impossible to procure within their borders.
Lubbock residents enacted an ordinance making the city a “sanctuary city” against abortion, passing the measure with 62% of the vote in a May election after the local government decided not to impose an abortion ban themselves.
The ordinance outlaws abortions from being performed—but notes that prohibition cannot be enforced unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade—and allows “an unborn child’s mother, father, grandparents, siblings, and half siblings” to sue anyone “that procures, performs, or aids and abets an abortion” other than the mother.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas sued the city to block the ordinance in May, but the case was dismissed Tuesday because the judge ruled the court lacks jurisdiction and could not stop private citizens from suing in state court even if it ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor.
The court decision cleared the way for the ordinance to take effect on Tuesday.
More than two dozen Texas cities have similarly declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for abortion, but the Texas Tribune reports Lubbock was the biggest and the first to do so that actually has an abortion provider in town.
The American Civil Liberties Union had previously sued seven Texas cities with similar ordinances, but the lawsuit was dropped after the municipalities amended their measures to decriminalize the organizations that brought the lawsuit, which both sides claimed as a victory.
What To Watch For
More cities across the country have begun imposing “sanctuary city” ordinances banning abortion this spring, a growing trend in the anti-abortion movement that could gain further steam amid the court ruling upholding Lubbock’s measure. Lebanon, Ohio, enacted a measure banning abortion last week after Hayes Center, Nebraska, became the first municipality outside of Texas to impose an ordinance in April. Legal challenges against those measures are expected, and it’s unclear whether they would be permissible as Lubbock’s was: Hayes Center does not predicate its ban on Roe v. Wade being overturned, for instance, putting the ordinance seemingly at direct odds with federal law.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has not yet responded to a request for comment on Tuesday’s ruling, but the organization noted in its initial lawsuit that Lubbock’s ordinance posed a significant “legal and financial risk” to its center in Lubbock and “the litigation costs from the barrage of civil lawsuits encouraged by the Ordinance would be crushing” if it went into effect. “The Ordinance’s obvious purpose is to prevent Plaintiffs from providing abortions in Lubbock, depriving anyone in the Lubbock area who wants an abortion of access to a safe and legal abortion. And that will be its effect,” the lawsuit argues, noting the Lubbock Planned Parenthood has already had to cancel appointments to avoid potential liability.
Texas localities have been imposing anti-abortion “sanctuary city” measures since 2019, with Waskom, Texas, becoming the first to do so in June of that year. With most cities not even having abortion providers in town that the ordinances could actually block, the measures have often been passed as a deterrent measure to try and dissuade abortion providers from coming to the cities. Critics contend the ordinances have still had damaging effects for those seeking abortions, however, by stigmatizing the procedure or sowing confusion by making people think abortion is illegal, despite it still being permissible under federal law. “‘Sanctuary cities’ are designed to confuse people about their rights, shame people who need abortions, and intimidate organizations who provide access to care,” Kamyon Conner, the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, told the Cut in Jan. 2020.
The sanctuary city measures are being passed amid a broader wave of anti-abortion laws taking root across the country, with the Guttmacher Institute reporting that 69 state restrictions on abortion had so far been passed in 2021 as of May 16. Texas recently enacted its own restrictive “heartbeat ban” prohibiting abortion potentially as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, which is widely expected to face legal challenges and will not go into effect until September. The conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court will also take up a challenge to Mississippi’s abortion ban next term, which has raised fears among abortion advocates that Roe v. Wade will be either significantly weakened or overturned, clearing the way for state and local abortion bans to take effect.