GILMER — Gilmer is the latest East Texas city to pass an anti-abortion ordinance.
Council members Tuesday night joined Waskom, Tenaha, Naples, Omaha and Joaquin in adopting the ordinance, which is being pushed by the Rev. Mark Lee Dickson. Dickson, of White Oak, is pastor of Sovereign Love Church in Longview.
After the 4-1 vote, City Manager Greg Hutson said the ordinance is constitutional and falls under Roe v. Wade because the city cannot enforce the measure unless the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion is overturned. Officials said, if the case is overturned, Gilmer now is prepared to immediately make abortion illegal inside the city limits.
“The thinking by many in the pro-life movement is ... at some point in the future, Roe v. Wade may very well be overturned,” he said. “This is a preemptive measure.”
Hutson said the ordinance would not punish the woman receiving an abortion but the provider.
He said most of Gilmer’s residents are anti-abortion, and he spoke with members of the Upshur Area Business Roundtable Executive Committee, which mostly supported the ordinance, before the vote. He also spoke with churches about the ordinance.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Dickson spoke of voter statistics in Gilmer, saying more than 80% voted Republican in 2016.
“The majority of the majority in the state of Texas wants to abolish abortion,” he said. “Y’all have the support of your community.”
Resident Dave Griffith told council members that he opposed the ordinance.
“I am not pro-abortion, but I am pro-constitution,” he said. “This City Council has no business getting involved in a constitutional issue. I don’t see any reason that the City Council needs to be involved in this publicity stunt.”
City Attorney Mike Martin said he advised the council that the ordinance could increase the city’s chances to be liable in a lawsuit. But he added that certain parts of the ordinance could protect the city.
“I advised the city that I felt like this was a policy decision, and they needed to vote either to their conscience or the wishes of their constituents,” he said. “I think what we did was legal.”
A clause in the ordinance says if any part of the statute is deemed unconstitutional, it can be removed, Martin said.
Hutson said he sought legal counsel with the Texas Municipal League before Tuesday’s vote.
“They didn’t support it,” he said. “It’s not a surprise, just really because of the political sensitivities.”
The Texas Right to Life Foundation provided the most legal counsel and said the ordinance is constitutional, Huston said.
Huston said everybody talks about rights, but nobody in the political spectrum talks about the rights of the unborn child.
“Everybody’s real big into the #MeToo movement, but that unborn child is not part of the #MeToo movement. Having said that, what we did tonight was the right thing to do,” he said. “This is the easiest issue that addresses abortion while still staying within Roe v. Wade. What’s the opposition all about? What is the opposition of people who are pro-life coming to a conclusion as it relates to the rights of the unborn?
“The council today just made a stand,” he said. “We can’t enforce it.”
Councilman Brian Williams was the lone dissenting vote. He declined to comment after Tuesday’s meeting.