Amarillo City Council must vote on abortion travel ban following successful voter petition

By Jayme Lozano Carver, The Texas Tribune

Amarillo City Council must vote on abortion travel ban following successful voter petition” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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LUBBOCK — The Amarillo City Council must consider a policy that outlaws using local streets to access an abortion in other states after the city verified supporters of the policy gathered enough signatures to advance the issue.

The five-member council in the heart of the Texas Panhandle had been reluctant to follow other conservative cities and counties that have put the largely symbolic policy in place.

According to City Secretary Stephanie Coggins, the city validated 6,300 signatures out of the 10,300 submitted last month. The petition will be presented to the council on May 28. The council may then hold a public meeting on the same day to consider the ordinance or schedule the discussion for a future date. The council must vote on the petition within 30 days of it being presented.

Depending on the council’s decision — the committee behind the “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance is unwilling to budge on certain provisions — the final say could be up to Amarillo voters in November.

During a press conference, Mayor Cole Stanley said most citizens are ready to have the issue in the rearview mirror and focus on other city business. He added that Texas is a “sanctuary state,” and wondered what would be accomplished by passing the ordinance.

“I don’t feel the council has three votes that would be in favor of this ordinance as it’s written,” Stanley said.

He added, “I don’t believe it would be necessary for the council to reject this. It has the signatures, it has been validated, it’s earned the right to go forward to the ballot if the committee decides to do that.”

The council asked the city attorney to draft a version of the ordinance that is in line with state law. Stanley previously told the Tribune their version would not have any provisions that “oversteps on civil liberties.” He believes this version will be ready for discussion at their next meeting. If it passes, the group behind the petition could still put the ordinance on the ballot.

“It doesn’t prevent this from going forward in November,” Stanley said. “If something were to fail then, it wouldn’t negate what the council would do here.”

On social media, Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Life of East Texas who is leading the charge, said he is looking forward to the next step of the process.

Lindsay London, co-founder of the Amarillo Reproductive Freedom Alliance, said the group is preparing for whatever comes next.

“We are continuing to meet with the mayor and City Council,” London said, “to work to ensure that extremist rhetoric does not overshadow the diverse needs and perspectives in our community.”

Amarillo’s City Council first took up the issue in October, but did not immediately approve the ordinance. In December, the council signaled it was willing to pass a version of the proposed policy that focused on restricting access to abortion-inducing medication for medical abortions, and regulating the disposal of human remains.

The travel ban was removed entirely from that version — a key component for anti-abortion activists, as Interstates 40 and 27 run through the city. A group of residents, who Dickson said were “uncomfortable” with the direction the council was taking, then began circulating the petition.

Dickson said the ordinance is about banning “abortion trafficking,” and neither he nor the committee behind the petition see the ordinance as a travel ban.

“We do not see prohibitions on abortion trafficking, child trafficking, or sex trafficking as violations of people’s ‘civil liberties’ or the ‘right to travel,’” Dickson said.

The original ordinance supporters want to see passed in the city does not call for pregnant women to be punished for having an abortion out of state. However, anti-abortion legal crusader Jonathan Mitchell has filed legal petitions seeking to depose women he claims traveled out of state for abortions. Mitchell is working with anti-abortion activists pushing the travel ban on a municipal level.

The proposed policy makes anyone who “aids and abet” the procedure vulnerable to a private lawsuit from other citizens. The enforcement is similar to Senate Bill 8, the Texas bill that banned almost all abortions in 2021, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. This is the only enforcement mechanism for the ordinance, which some council members have criticized as creating a system for neighbors to turn on each other to collect reward money.

Recently, city leaders in Clarendon, about 60 miles southeast of Amarillo, rejected passing the “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance. The cities of Llano and Chandler held off on making decisions to approve or reject the travel ban.

Other cities and counties in Texas have passed ordinances to prohibit traveling through their jurisdictions for an abortion outside the state. This includes the cities of Athens, Abilene, Plainview, San Angelo, Odessa, Muenster and Little River-Academy, and Mitchell, Goliad, Lubbock, Dawson, Cochran and Jack counties.

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