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Critics Decry Unconstitutional Abortion Ban in Lubbock, Texas

“We will continue to advocate for our patients, no matter what,” a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said.

An abortion rights activist holds a placard outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Voters in the city of Lubbock, Texas, have passed by referendum vote a new ordinance that seeks to restrict any abortion services carried out within the city.

The measure, which passed with 62 percent of voters in favor of it, declares the municipality as a so-called “sanctuary city for the unborn,” joining more than two dozen other cities across the U.S. that have designated themselves as such.

Although the measure explicitly states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to procure or perform an abortion of any type and at any stage of pregnancy in the City of Lubbock, Texas,” individuals who get an abortion will not be directly punished by the ordinance, due to state and federal laws and rulings that protect access to abortions. The measure does, however, allow individuals to sue providers if they have family members who received an abortion, and allows family members to sue anyone else who helped that person procure an abortion — such as a friend providing transportation to the clinic where the medical procedure was performed.

Proponents of the ordinance hope that there will be enough lawsuits to force the clinics to shut their doors in Lubbock. Abortion opponents had originally pushed for city officials to pass the ordinance after a Planned Parenthood clinic returned to Lubbock in 2020 (after being closed in 2013), but officials balked at taking that action, noting that it would likely create lawsuits that would be costly for the city. Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope suggested the new ordinance would go into effect as soon as June 1.

When early returns began to suggest that the measure was likely to pass by referendum, several organizations spoke out against the ordinance, hinting that they would challenge it in court immediately.

“Abortion is not just essential health care, but also a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution,” Drucilla Tigner, policy and advocacy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, said in a statement. “The ACLU has a long history of challenging unconstitutional abortion bans and will continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of the people of Lubbock.”

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas also promised to continue serving residents of Lubbock. “We want Lubbock residents to know: Our doors are open and we will continue to advocate for our patients, no matter what,” spokesperson Sarah Wheat said.

Turnout on Saturday for the election in the city, which has a population of around 260,000, was high compared to other springtime elections in recent years. However, only about 34,000 voters took part in the referendum on abortion, whereas 110,208 residents voted in the presidential election in 2020.

Outside of Lubbock, state lawmakers in Texas are considering legislation that would ban abortion procedures beyond six weeks of gestation — a bill that, if passed into law, would also likely result in legal challenges. Similar to the Lubbock ordinance, House Bill 1515 grants anyone (not just family members) the ability to sue abortion providers for “aiding and abetting” an abortion in the state.

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