LUBBOCK, Texas — Early voting began Monday for an ordinance to make Lubbock a sanctuary city for the unborn and outlaw abortion.
However, questions still linger about what exactly the ordinance would do if it were passed.
In November, the Lubbock City Council voted 7-0 to reject adopting the ordinance. Prior to the vote, the city hired a law firm that declared the ordinance contrary to Texas law.
However, it had enough signatures during a petition drive to become a ballot proposition.
The ordinance states that Lubbock will be a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” a term adopted by 22 other Texas cities and two cities in Nebraska. The largest city to pass an ordinance that declared itself a sanctuary city for the unborn is Big Spring, with an estimated population of 28,187 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
With an estimated population of 258,862, Lubbock would be, by far, the largest city to declare itself a sanctuary city for the unborn.
The ordinance would also outlaw abortion within city limits and declare “abortion at all times and at all stages of pregnancy” an act of murder.
Lubbock did not have a working abortion clinic in the city until April 15, when the Planned Parenthood Health Center began offering abortions.
The abortion ban would be enforced through fines of $2,000 per violation.
However, the ordinance would not be enforceable through penalties “unless and until” either of three things happens: The Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a state or federal court rules that it does not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions, or a state or federal court rules the entity being penalized “lacks third-party standing to assert the rights of women seeking abortions in court.”
According to the ordinance, this lack of enforceability does not legalize the conduct, however, and does not do anything to limit the ability of private individuals to sue under the ordinance.
The private enforcement outlined in the ordinance allows for specific people to sue individuals or entities providing abortion for compensatory damages — including damages for emotional distress — as well as punitive damages and costs and attorneys’ fees.
The people allowed to sue abortion providers for damages include the mother, the father, the grandparents, siblings and half-siblings of the unborn child.
Any private citizen of Texas would be allowed to sue individuals or entities providing abortion for injunctive relief, statutory damages of $2,000 per violation and costs and attorneys’ fees. Injunctive relief would stop the conduct from happening in the future.
Those sued for providing abortion in Lubbock would be allowed to assert Supreme Court rulings such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey as a defense against a lawsuit.
No one would be allowed to sue the mother of the unborn child under the ordinance. Additionally, abortions performed to save the life of the mother would not be outlawed.
None of the 22 Texas towns that have already adopted similar ordinances have clinics that offer abortions. If the ordinance were adopted, Lubbock would be the only city with an abortion clinic to pass an ordinance that outlaws abortion within city limits.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas policy and advocacy strategist Drucilla Tigner said the organization is closely watching the outcome of the vote and “considering all options.”
“The proposal is a blatantly unconstitutional law that would insert the City of Lubbock into private medical decisions best made by families,” Tigner said.
In 2020, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against seven Texas towns that passed similar ordinances outlawing abortion. The focus of the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Texas Equal Access Fund and the Lilith Fund – two pro-choice groups in the state – was solely on the ordinances’ designation of organizations assisting women in getting abortions as “criminal organizations.”
The ACLU later dropped the lawsuit after several cities amended their original ordinances to remove the declaration of particular organizations as being “criminal” while still preserving a ban on abortion.
The ordinance up for a vote in Lubbock does not contain language declaring any organizations as “criminal.” According to one section of the ordinance, no provision “may be construed to prohibit any conduct protected by the First Amendment.”
Early voting for the ordinance will continue through April 27, and Election Day will be Saturday, May 1.