Waskom, Texas, sits just 22 miles from Hope Medical Center in Shreveport, La., an abortion facility under investigation for criminal activity and at the center of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case June Medical Services v. Gee. After Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed the state’s pro-life heartbeat law last May, some abortion advocates started looking for border cities in other states to host abortion centers.
Talk of building an abortion business in the small Texas town alarmed Waskom officials.
“There was a lot of concern,” said Mark Lee Dickson, a pastor and a director of Right to Life of East Texas. Dickson approached the mayor about it, and the mayor asked, “What can we do?”
Waskom became the first in a wave of towns to declare themselves sanctuary cities for unborn babies last year. This month, four more municipalities plan to vote to adopt sanctuary city ordinances, joining six others that passed them last year.
The ordinances protect unborn babies from abortions within the city limits. Some include bans on emergency contraceptives, like Plan B. They have two different enforcement mechanisms: First, an abortionist becomes subject to a $2,000 fine for each procedure performed within the city limits. Individuals or organizations that assist with abortions also incur fines. Second, family members get the right to sue an abortionist for the death of the unborn child.
Dickson is joining Texas Right to Life in traveling to more than 400 Texas municipalities to promote the movement. “This is about cities drawing a line and saying, ‘Babies are not going to be murdered here,’” he said.
Pro-abortion advocates have threatened a showdown, sending intimidating letters to small towns considering the move, posting billboards, and starting pro-abortion campaigns.
“It’s a growing epidemic,” Drucilla Tigner, a political strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said in a recent webinar hosted by Texas pro-abortion groups. “It’s not just something we think is going to stop in East Texas.”
Dickson said pro-abortion advocates have a reason for concern: “We are getting lots of calls from other states.”
Unless the Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that led to the legalization of abortion nationwide, the ordinances are largely symbolic since they are legally unenforceable. None of the cities that have passed sanctuary city for the unborn ordinances have abortion facilities in them, but Dickson said they can act as a strong deterrent. Planned Parenthood recently opened an 18,000-square-foot abortion center in Fairview Heights, Ill., a town of just 17,000 people, after secretly constructing the facility near the Missouri border.
“This is a preventative measure since we don’t want abortion tourism happening in our towns,” Dickson said.
The trend represents growing hope that with a conservative majority, the Supreme Court will soon overturn or undermine Roe. If that happens, sanctuary city measures could take immediate effect, meaning abortionists—even distributors of abortifacients like Plan B—could face steep fines.
These small Texas towns not only want to stop abortion, but they also offer support for women facing crisis pregnancies. Some, like Gilmer, have pregnancy centers, according to Dickson. In others, churches provide the bulk of support for single mothers and women contemplating abortion, he said.
Joe Pojman, director of the Texas Alliance for Life, cautioned that the ordinances could invite lawsuits that will not stand unless the high court overturns Roe. He noted the spread of sanctuary cities for the unborn stands to “embolden opponents of pro-life laws” during an election year: “We need to stay focused on ensuring Roe v. Wade is overturned. … The most astute political observers agree that Texas is in play.”