Among a crowd of hundreds outside of Lubbock's Citizens Tower, three stood tall in the center holding signs. A bright pink one read, “I stand with the Planned Parenthood.” They positioned their messages to face Jim Baxa, the leader of West Texas Right to Life.
“We’re just here to pray over the men who are making decisions on the lives of little babies today,” he said.
Another man kneels in front of the three holding signs that advocate for abortion rights. His hands cast out towards them, praying.
This preceded the Tuesday night city council public hearing to consider banning abortions in the city. Over a span of six hours, 87 people gave statements in person.
Two weeks ago, a petition was submitted to Lubbock’s city council calling for a ban on abortions within city limits. If passed, Lubbock would join the ranks of 15 other Texas cities that call themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”
The effort mobilized as Planned Parenthood reopened its Lubbock clinic. The local organization does not currently provide abortions, but plans to beginning early next year.
Tuesday evening, 150 people signed up to speak. As the hours crawled by, 87 gave a public statement, most of who were from citizens pushing for the ordinance to be adopted. Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope announced before the start of the hearing that they received 498 emails contain public comment. Of those, 473 were against the banning of abortion.
Jim Baxa is the founder of West Texas for life—a pro-life organization that he started from his living room back in 2013. He is one of the citizens pushng for the ordinance. He said that even though abortion clinics closed, his group still felt compelled to fight.
“We know women are still going to go to Dallas and have their babies chopped into pieces,” Baxa said.
His passion to end abortion stems from being raised by a single mom. He says his father—who they refer to as a sperm donor—told his mom to get an abortion. She didn’t.
“My mom actually took me to the abortion clinic in a little stroller and gave me a sign that said 'don’t kill the babies,'” he recalled.
Baxa’s mission became more focused when he crossed paths with Mark Lee Dickson—a guy from White Oak, just outside of Longview, Texas. He coined the idea for sanctuary cities for the unborn. Baxa and others wanted to see Lubbock become the next sanctuary city. So, they asked Dickson for help.
He travels from city to city attending city council meetings and other events, pushing local governments to adopt the ordinance. He’s easily recognized by his signature backwards baseball cap and blazer.
“I go where I feel like the lord is leading me to go,” Dickson said.
Waskom, Texas was the first city to adopt the ordinance. More recently, Big Spring, Morton and New Deal took it up as well.
“I’m here in Lubbock, Texas and I am hopeful that Lubbock, Texas will be the [sixteenth] city to outlaw abortion in the nation,” Dickson said.
Part of the draw to Lubbock was the city’s charter that gives a pathway for a citizen ordinance to be taken to a public vote. Dickson recognizes that city officials don’t want the ordinance. But he says citizens do.
“I wanted to actually accomplish something…something that actually had teeth to it,” he said.
But if passed, does this ordinance have teeth? The short answer is no.
“What the ordinances are, are statements,” Jessica Waters, who is a professor at American University and specializes in reproductive rights law, said. “They certainly attract attention but as a criminal matter, they’re not enforceable because they fly in the face of federal law.”
She said that what these symbolic yet confusing ordinances do is cause a chilling effect to abortion provisions.
Anjali Salvador with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU) said, “One of the reasons why ordinances like this are so harmful, they’re confusing people about what their rights are.”
Supporters of the ordinance point to an amendment to state Senate Bill 22 as the loophole that allows cities to ban abortions. The bill prohibits government entities from funding abortion clinics. An amendment states the bill can’t restrict a municipality from prohibiting abortions. But even Rep. Donna Campbell, who wrote the bill, said the amendment doesn’t grant authority to restrict abortions.
“Abortion is still a constitutional right everywhere, every state, every city, including Lubbock,” Salvador said.
Following the public hearing on Tuesday, city council voted against the ordinance, 7 to 0. The petition organizing committee can appeal for the ordinance to go to a citizen vote, likely in May.
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