Abortion Sanctuary Movement Continues its Long March Through Small-Town Texas

Following Waskom's decision to declare itself a sanctuary from abortion, NARAL Texas put billboards up near the town.EXPAND
Following Waskom's decision to declare itself a sanctuary from abortion, NARAL Texas put billboards up near the town.

When the Observer first reported on the burgeoning "sanctuary cities" for the unborn movement last summer, the whole thing seemed like a sideshow. Waskom, a town smack-dab in the middle of Gohmertland in East Texas, banned abortion clinics within its city limits. The town based its decision on the fact that, in its opinion, every Supreme Court decision ever issued guaranteeing the right to an abortion had been incorrectly decided.

The whole thing was a sideshow — one hell-bent on intimidating those seeking abortion when they're at their most vulnerable, but a sideshow nonetheless. After Waskom, however, the sanctuary cities movement has kept chugging along, positioning itself as a genuine threat to Texans' right to choose as it's picked up support in a growing number of small cities and towns.

This week, the movement shepherded by East Texas Right to Life's Mark Lee Dickson picked up support from city councils in Rusk and Colorado City, as well as tentative approval from officials in Big Spring. Rusk and Colorado City, like the seven municipalities before them that have signed up as sanctuary cities, are small, home to fewer than 6,000 residents. Big Spring, with its 28,000 residents, would be the biggest get yet for the movement.

As pro-choice activists have done each time another town has signed on to one of the ordinances, Kamyon Conner, the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, made it clear that the new ordinances don't actually change anything.

“Let’s be clear, abortion is still legal in each and every Texas county. This extreme proposal is a tactic for abortion opponents to score political points and mislead Texans about their rights," Conner said. “We absolutely believe in a Texas where every single person can access each and every health care option — regardless of where they live, how much they make, their gender identity or immigration status.”

Dickson told the Observer in October that he isn't fighting for the ordinances because he wants anyone thrown in jail right away. Instead, he views them as an insurance policy and a deterrent. Abortion providers won't come to towns with the ordinances, he believes, because of the consequences they'll suffer if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. There's also a chance that one of his ordinances could lead to the lawsuit that gives the Supreme Court another swing at Roe.

Drucilla Tigner, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas' reproductive rights political strategist, identified the sanctuary cities for the unborn movement as one of the biggest upcoming challenges for Texans who support reproductive rights when the Observer talked with her about the state of abortion rights in Texas last month.

It's important, Tigner said, that Texans push back against Dickson's campaign as he attempts to move it into bigger cities — in addition to Big Spring, Dickson has identified Abilene as a potential target.

Shiloh Creswell, a Big Spring pro-choice advocate, said this week that she plans to continue fighting.

“This is not the end of Big Spring, but the beginning," she said. "This topic has shown voters that politics do matter and that they can make a difference. We will use this momentum to inform and engage voters to show up to the polls and use their voice."

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