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Over the last eight months, seven towns across east Texas have declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn,” which effectively banned abortion and organizations that advocate for the right to the procedure.
Now, those towns are being sued for their new rules.
On Tuesday, the national ACLU and ACLU of Texas announced a lawsuit against the seven Texas towns on behalf of the abortion rights advocacy groups Lilith Fund and Texas Equal Access Fund. Under the ordinances, both of those groups were labeled “criminal organizations,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court.
As “criminal organizations,” they were forbidden from operating within the towns’ limits, which banned them from offering services, renting or buying property, or “establishing a physical presence of any sort,” the lawsuit alleges. Getting or performing an abortion was also deemed illegal, as was helping anyone get an abortion, though that restriction wouldn’t actually take effect unless Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned.
The ordinances also declare abortion to be an “act of murder with malice aforethought.” Under Texas law, that’s not true: Abortion remains legal; it’s legal in all 50 states.
“Abortion is legal and constitutionally protected in these cities — officials there just do not want their residents to know it,” the ACLU lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit accuses these seven Texas cities of unconstitutionally limiting the Lilith Fund and Texas Equal Access Fund’s rights to free speech and free association and discriminating against their pro-abortion rights viewpoints. (Neither the Lilith Fund nor the Texas Equal Access Fund actually perform abortions.)
“A major part of our work is to make sure every Texan knows their rights and can find legitimate, fact-based information about getting an abortion — regardless of income or zip code,” said Amanda Beatriz Williams, executive director of Lilith Fund, said in a statement. “These would-be abortion bans are deliberately designed to confuse people about their rights and push safe abortion care further out of reach.”
The ordinances first appeared in Texas in Waskom, a town of about 2,200 people near the Louisiana border. When the all-white, all-male city council voted unanimously to pass the measure last June, Waskom Mayor Jesse Moore acknowledged that the town would probably face an expensive lawsuit over it.
“Y’all save your nickels and pennies,” Moore joked, to laughter from the packed room.
But a local news outlet reported that the townspeople weren’t worried, because “they say God will take care of them.”
Cover: Director of Clinical Services, Marva Sadler, prepares the operating room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)