UPDATE: Late Tuesday night, Judge James Wesley Hendrix dismissed Planned Parenthood's case agasint the City of Lubbock, citing lack of jurisdiction. Judge James Wesley Hendrix questioned during last week's court hearing whether the federal district court was the right venue for the lawsuit that he said was filed too soon, before the plaintiffs could definitively say the ordinance impacted them. The lawsuit can be re-filed.
As expected, Lubbock’s recently passed “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance is being tested in court. The local law attempts to criminalize abortion and allows civil litigation against providers.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services sued the City of Lubbock in federal court last week in an effort to stop the local law they call unconstitutional from going into effect on June 1. The first court hearing regarding the case happened Friday morning.
Before getting into the merits of the case, Judge James Wesley Hendrix will decide if his court is the appropriate one to even consider the lawsuit. As of early Friday afternoon, Hendrix has not released his decision.
Josh Blackman, constitutional law expert from the South Texas College of Law Houston, in an interview earlier this week said he believes the lawsuit should not go forward.
“When Planned Parenthood sues the City of Lubbock, they’re suing the wrong party,” Blackman said. “The city is not injuring them, and a judgment against the city would not redress any injury. So this case doesn’t belong in federal court.”
Blackman thinks Planned Parenthood will have a stronger case about the ordinance’s constitutionality in private civil lawsuits. Comments made during the Friday court hearing suggest litigation will be filed as soon as the ordinance goes into effect next week.
Sections of the ordinance allowing family members of an aborted fetus to sue the provider or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion have had a chilling effect on appointments at the Lubbock health center. Counsel for Planned Parenthood said that will continue unless the ordinance is voided. Based on legal precedent, Blackman said there is a valid argument that this violates a person’s right to make their own medical decisions.
But Planned Parenthood argued the city is still liable here for, as Judge Hendrix put it, “letting the genie out of the bottle” and maintaining, though not publicly enforcing, the ordinance. Hendrix made it clear in his comments that even if he ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, that would not stop potential private litigation from being filed.
The court hearing was attended by citizens on both sides of the abortion rights debate. The majority of onlookers were women.
Aurora Farthing was not at the courthouse Friday morning, but she is closely following the lawsuit. Farthing led the Protect Lubbock Taxpayers political action committee before citizens voted on the “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance. She said she knew the city would face lawsuits for having the ordinance on the books - lawsuits that will cost taxpayers money to fight.
According to documents obtained by Texas Tech Public Media through a Texas Public Information Act request, the City of Lubbock has agreed to pay two separate law firms up to $50,000 each to defend the anti-abortion ordinance. That amount can be adjusted with the city council’s approval.
“Legal representation is kind of just a drop in the bucket of what the overall costs of these types of things are,” Farthing said.
Former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell offered to represent the city pro bono if it were to be sued. According to a TPIA request filed by Farthing and viewed by Texas Tech Public Media, there was no written correspondence between Mitchell and the city. Mitchell is now representing the political action committee Project Destiny as an interested party in the lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood.
The money for legal representation is on top of the over $160,000 already spent on the city-wide election earlier this month. The ordinance was the only measure on most ballots.
Farthing thinks the city’s bill will only get longer to defend an ordinance that she said is dangerous and cruel to women.
“It’s my belief that this isn’t going anywhere,” Farthing said.
Citing the pending litigation, City Manager Jarrett Atkinson and City Attorney Chad Weaver declined to comment for this story. City officials have said they will back this ordinance in court just as they would any other local law.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
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