Sanctuary City for the Unborn

Mark Lee Dickson of Right to Life of East Texas speaks during the public comment portion at the July 23 Gilmer City Council meeting. Dickson and others spoke in favor of an ordinance declaring the city a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has withdrawn its lawsuit against seven cities in Texas that had enacted ordinances outlawing abortion within city limits. The cities each also have proclaimed itself a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn,” joining a movement spreading across the state.

The ACLU announced Feb. 25 it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Lilith Fund and the Texas Equal Access Fund to challenge abortion ban ordinances passed in seven East Texas cities. Named in the lawsuit were Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, Rusk, Gary and Wells. The lawsuit was dropped Tuesday.

The ACLU’s decision to withdraw its suit comes after those cities amended the ordinances. The lawsuit noted that both groups are labeled “criminal entities” under the abortion ordinances. It accused the ordinances of being unconstitutional and violating the abortion funds’ rights to free expression and association under the First Amendment.

The cities amended the ordinances by decriminalizing the organizations in the language used. However, the ordinances maintain prohibition on abortion within the city limits.

On Tuesday, the Lilith Fund claimed victory through Twitter: “Y’all remember those towns that tried to ‘band abortion’ [sic] and say our work made was 'criminal organizations?' Yeah we sued and they backed down real quick.”

However, Right to Life of East Texas — the organization behind the "Sanctuary City" movement — also said it was triumphant. 

“This is a total and complete victory for the cities that have enacted these ordinances,” said Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Life of East Texas. “We said from the outset that there is no legal basis to challenge these ordinances, and they have been vetted by expert legal counsel. We’re pleased that the ACLU realized this and decided to withdraw its lawsuit.”

Texas Right to Life said the ordinances withstood legal scrutiny. 

“Pro-Life Texans can continue to find encouragement in these citizens’ courageous commitment to stand up for the innocent preborn children in their own communities, even and especially in the face of superficial legal challenges,” the organization said in a written statement Tuesday.

In the long run, Dickson said he expects the lawsuit will draw more attention to his cause.

“This lawsuit was nothing but a publicity stunt to deter other cities from creating sanctuaries for the unborn, but it will end up having the opposite effect,” Dickson said. "Now even the ACLU acknowledges that there is no basis for challenging these ordinances, and this will embolden other cities and towns to join the 'Sanctuary City for the Unborn' movement.”

Other cities in Texas that have outlawed abortion but were not named in the ACLU’s suit include Gilmer, Westbrook, Colorado City and Big Spring. The city of Whiteface voted to outlaw abortion after the lawsuit was filed.