LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) — On Saturday, residents of Lubbock, Texas, voted to make it a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” ostensibly banning abortions within city limits. It’s the largest city to pass such an ordinance and the only one with an abortion provider, setting up the West Texas college town for legal clashes with groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
Polls show that a majority of Texans support keeping abortion legal. Some Lubbockites say anti-abortion thinking runs deep in the city, though it’s unclear where exactly residents stand overall since just around 19% of registered voters turned out for Saturday’s vote.
Opponents say the ordinance – which bans abortion in the city except when a woman's life is in danger – could have a chilling effect, discouraging women in the area from seeking the procedure and further pushing providers into the shadows. Abortion remains legal under federal law, protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
The Lubbock ordinance is the latest skirmish in the war over access to women’s health care in Texas. Twenty-three other cities in the Lone Star State have passed similar or identical ordinances, backed by groups like Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn and Texas Right to Life. So far this year, state lawmakers have introduced several bills aimed at curtailing or banning abortion.
Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, sees Lubbock’s ordinance as part of a longstanding effort to undermine abortion rights. “This is the next frontier in a strategy of attempting to ban abortion in any way possible,” she said.
When the referendum passed with 62% of the vote, Texas Right to Life celebrated the “life-saving ordinance” and promised it would “continue our work to end abortion statewide.” In response, the ACLU called the ordinance “harmful” and warned Lubbock could face “costly legal battles.”
Planned Parenthood, which just started performing abortions in Lubbock again last month, says it isn’t going anywhere — though the provider did say it was “reviewing the impact of the ordinance” and would “make decisions soon regarding the availability of abortion services in Lubbock.”
“Our doors will remain open,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “We remain committed to advocating for access to abortion for any Texan.”
A decade ago, Planned Parenthood had a branch in Lubbock. But in 2013, the Texas Legislature passed strict new requirements on abortion clinics, including new building rules and a requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Within years, more than half of Texas’ abortion clinics had shuttered, including the Planned Parenthood in Lubbock, according to an analysis by the Texas Tribune.
Abortion rights advocates sued, arguing the new restrictions served no purpose and therefore imposed an unconstitutional burden on abortion providers.
The Supreme Court agreed in 2016. Writing for the majority in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Stephen Breyer said the Texas laws did not benefit patients and were unnecessary. The ruling paved the way for the return of women’s health clinics to underserved parts of the state. By 2019, Planned Parenthood had reopened its El Paso location and was discussing plans for further expansion in West Texas, including a reopening of its Lubbock branch.
Around the same time, on the other side of the state, anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson was starting his crusade to encourage cities to ban abortions on a local level. An East Texas native, Dickson had heard rumors that a women's clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, was closing. He worried what that meant for Waskom, a nearby town of around 1,600 just across the Texas-Louisiana border.