The American Civil Liberties Union announced Tuesday it had filed a lawsuit to challenge abortion ban ordinances passed in seven East Texas cities.
The City of Gary is listed in the lawsuit, along with Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, Rusk and Wells. All seven cities had passed some version of an ordinance pushed by Right to Life East Texas.
The ACLU is representing two abortion funds, the Lilith Fund and the Texas Equal Access Fund. Both groups are labeled “criminal entities” under the passed abortion ordinances. The lawsuit filed Tuesday says the ordinances violate those groups’ rights to free expression and association under the First Amendment.
“These ordinances are unconstitutional,” said Anjali Salvador, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Abortion is legal in every state and city in the country. Cities cannot punish pro-abortion organizations for carrying out their important work — especially when they do so in a way that violates the First Amendment.”
Kamyon Connor, executive director for the Texas Equal Access Fund, said the ordinances were a tactic for abortion opponents to score political points. Both the TEA Fund and the Lilith Fund provide financial assistance to people seeking abortions and engage in reproductive choice advocacy work throughout Texas.
“Access to reproductive care including abortion, which is still legal, allows individuals and families to receive the support needed to thrive in our state,” she said. “Texas Equal Access Fund is proud to help people access abortion care and we will fight to protect our ability to continue doing this necessary work.”
Gary's ordinance bans, among other things, abortion and the sale and providing of emergency contraception within the City of Gary. Although Gary's ordinance bans abortion, such a provision is not enforceable under current law because of Roe v. Wade.
When called for comment on the lawsuit, Gary Mayor Mark Thornton directed the Watchman to Right to Life East Texas director Mark Lee Dickson.
Dickson, on Tuesday, said the ACLU has represented the KKK and Nazis, and in this case is representing two groups who “support the murder of innocent children.”
“So the only way that’s appropriate to respond to groups like that — we have to remember who we are,” he said. “We’re Texans. We have two phrases here in Texas that we hold near and dear to our heart and that is ‘Don’t tread on me’ and ‘Don’t mess with Texas.’ If they think that they can throw their weight around and intimidate these cities, they’ve got another thing coming because the people I’ve talked to, they have the mentality that they’re going to fight and that we’re going to win this and that we’re going to stand for what matters most to us, which is our children.”
The lawsuit filed Tuesday argues such provisions calling abortion advocacy organizations criminal organizations means "Plantiffs have been judged criminal without ever having been charged with a crime, much less afforded a trial." It also argues that denying pro-choice organizations the right to speak while allowing anti-abortion groups the freedom to speak their views at will is discriminatory.
Pro-choice organizations, the lawsuit said, "view educating people about their right to access abortion — and restrictions on that right — as a central component of their missions. Because of these anti-abortion ordinances, there is a critical need to make sure that people residing in or near these cities have an accurate understanding of their rights."
Unlike surrounding cities, the Carthage City Commission voted Monday to deny the proposed ordinance, with commissioners expressing concerns about its constitutionality.
“If I’ve got our city attorney, if I’ve got the Texas Municipal League attorney, and I’ve got every attorney in Carthage telling me not to do this — and I’ve got well-meaning people that think they know the law but may or may not, I think I’m going to have to go with my local attorneys,” Mayor Pro Tem Lin Joffrion said.
Mike Cummings, who serves on the Joaquin City Council, told Carthage commissioners Monday night that after his own city adopted the ordinance, nothing had happened.
“We’ve already swam with the ACLU sharks, and I’m here to tell you all those baseless threats and emails and letters they sent to you, we passed this ordinance six months ago... We fielded the calls, we got the emails, we got the threat and messages and Facebook — and I’m telling you now that since we adopted this ordinance six months ago, we’ve heard from nobody,” he said.
The ACLU's lawsuit was filed less than 24 hours later.