In a novel strategy, Texas cities and counties are enacting measures to protect preborn children from being aborted out of state.
The abortion trafficking ordinances make it “unlawful for any person to knowingly transport any individual for the purpose of providing or obtaining an elective abortion, regardless of where the elective abortion will occur.” This would prevent taking a resident outside the jurisdiction to obtain an abortion, as well as prohibit travel through the jurisdiction on the way to procure an abortion.
Mitchell and Goliad counties have already enacted such ordinances. The city of Llano made headlines when they tabled the ordinance for a future meeting. Ordinances are also being considered in Mason, Chandler, and Whiteface, a county bordering New Mexico.
“This really is building a wall to stop abortion trafficking,” Mark Lee Dickson, the architect of the legislation, told the Washington Post. Dickson refers to the practice as abortion trafficking because, he explains, “the unborn child is always taken against their will.”
The laws are clear to exempt the mother of the preborn child from any legal repercussions. The ordinance does not apply to “conduct taken by a pregnant woman who aborts or seeks to abort her unborn child; or who travels for the purpose of aborting her unborn child.”
The text continues, “Under no circumstances may the mother of the unborn child that has been aborted, or the pregnant woman who seeks to abort her unborn child, be subject to prosecution or penalty or civil liability under this section.”
A New Direction in Local Legislation
Previously, Dickson, a director of Right to Life of East Texas, together with former Texas solicitor general Jonathan Mitchell, founded the initiative to create Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn. To date, 71 cities and counties across the U.S. have passed ordinances outlawing abortion, including more than 50 in Texas. These ordinances’ unique mechanism of enforcement by private citizens served as a model for the statewide Texas Heartbeat Act.
Many of the ordinances establishing Texas cities as Sanctuary Cities already prohibited abortions performed on the jurisdiction’s residents, regardless of where the abortions took place. These new ordinances focus on explicitly banning abortion trafficking.
Dickson explains, citing the ordinance in Mitchell County, “if a father of an unborn child witnessed his unborn child’s mother being picked up in Mitchell County to be taken to another state for an abortion, he could be able to sue the one who picked up the mother for the illegal purpose as well as the abortion trafficking organization that paid for the mother’s travel expenses outside the state.”
The ordinance also bans the distribution of abortion pills.
Abortion-choice analysts fear the ordinances’ focus on the preborn child being trafficked across state lines is a step toward legal recognition of the child’s personhood.
“They’re also trying to create a precedent, kind of bit by bit, establishing that a fetus is a rights-holding person, or an unborn child is a rights-holding person in the law,” says Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California at Davis. “It’s a bid to eventually get that claim before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Some have also questioned the constitutionality of the ordinances. Dickson believes there is precedence in the Mann Act, a 1910 federal law that made it a felony to transport “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”
The Washington Post reports that abortion trafficking ordinances are publicly supported by 20 state legislators.
Abortion Trafficking Surges
Some question the practicality of the ordinances. Llano Mayor Marion Bishop admitted the measure would be difficult to enforce. “Is it absolutely necessary? No,” he told the Washington Post. “Does it make a statement? Yes, it does.”
Dickson, however, disagrees that the measure is merely symbolic. The mayor, Dickson writes, “while supportive of the ordinance, it is wrong to say the measure is not absolutely necessary and largely symbolic. Abortion trafficking is happening throughout Texas, including on the roads which pass through Llano.”
On August 31, 2021, one day before the Texas Heartbeat Act went into effect, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order allocating $10 million dollars to build a new abortion facility along the Texas border. The order also directed the state’s Department of Health to expand abortion access.
Abortions in New Mexico skyrocketed from nearly 4,900 abortions in 2021 to over 11,000 abortions in 2022. NBC interviewed one New Mexico abortionist—who operates just a mile west of the Texas state line—whose facility grew from performing 100 abortions a month to performing 250 abortions a month.
Six providers in New Mexico perform surgical abortions that dismember the preborn child with forceps or a vacuum aspirator. An additional 13 providers dispense abortion pills that kill the child by cutting off his or her supply of oxygen and nutrients. Among the state’s abortionists is the infamous Curtis Boyd, who says he is willing to perform abortions at any gestational age and who once admitted in an interview, “Am I killing? Yes, I am. I know that.”
New Mexico permits abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Nevertheless, two counties and four cities in the state enacted Sanctuary City ordinances prohibiting abortion, though several have been blocked in court. The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding the case in December 2023.
There has also been an influx of American women traveling south of the border to procure abortions in Mexico. The research arm of Planned Parenthood, The Guttmacher Institute, even recently published data indicating widespread travel for abortions.
Hope for the Future
In Texas, Dickson included Llano in his focus, he says, due to its strategic location at the crossroads of several major highways, two of which are frequently driven en route to New Mexico.
Though the Llano City Council tabled the measure for now, Dickson expressed hope the ordinance would be passed at a future meeting. “Roadblocks are not new to our efforts,” he wrote. “We faced roadblocks in Lindale, Lubbock, Odessa, and many other cities, but we persisted, and we prevailed. Llano will not be any different. We will persist, and we will prevail.”
In Odessa, a Sanctuary City ordinance was initially voted down. However, after several council members who had opposed the measure were voted out of office, the ordinance passed.