ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many Texas towns are becoming sanctuary cities for the unborn. Abilene’s desire to become a sanctuary city, however, depends on the vote of the citizens, but the proposed ordinance is raising some eyebrows.
For the first time in Abilene’s history, an ordinance written by the citizens has made it onto the November ballot. But it’s the contents of the Sanctuary City ordinance that’s causing some major concerns.
Scott Beard, senior pastor at Fountain Gate Fellowship Church, spearheaded the idea for the ordinance after it was originally denied by City Council last year and put on the ballot this past April.
After collecting 12,000 signatures, 7,500 of those verified voters in Abilene’s city limits, they could proceed with campaigning for the upcoming elections.
“The goal is to outlaw abortion in our city, and make sure it never, ever lets people have an abortion in our city,” Pastor Beard said.
The pastor continued, “Every one of our petitions had an ordinance stapled to it, and then we pointed them to our website where the ordinance was. We weren’t there to deceive anybody. We [explained] exactly what the ordinance did in a nutshell. Our website details that.”
Pouring nearly $100,000 into campaign advertising, the journey to make Abilene a Sanctuary City was underway, taking much of its ordinance from one passed in Lubbock.
Lubbock passed its ordinance in May 2021. It was eight pages long and helped shut down the existing Planned Parenthood location there. However, there are several major differences between Lubbock’s successful ordinance and Abilene’s proposal.
The first being the length – while Lubbock’s was eight pages in length, Abilene’s is 18. The second major difference was the presence of a Planned Parenthood location. Lubbock had an active location, while Abilene has not had one in nearly 15 years.
The root of them remained the same, though; that is to give unborn babies a voice.
In Abilene’s proposal, there is one exception, though.
“The life of the mother is protected,” Pastor Beard said, “If her life is in danger, then there is that exception to take the baby.”
Just like anything going up for election, there will be two sides disagreeing on one thing or another. The major sticking point for City Council, however, is due to it going to the ballot. If the ordinance is approved, it must be enforced as it reads currently, with no option to edit the language moving forward.
“The city council in had the option in 2019, when they looked at it and even when we presented it again, to take that ordinance and kind of look at it, dig down into it, change wording if they wanted to, or at least suggest changed wording,” Pastor Beard clarified. “Instead, they just chose to put it before the voters.”
Making the two most controversial points within the proposed ordinance are abortion coverage prohibited in employer-provided health benefits, and the ability to press charges on abortions held outside Abilene’s city limits and the state.
In section 20.88 of the Abilene Sanctuary City ordinance it says:
(a) It shall be unlawful for any employer in the city of Abilene, Texas, and for any person acting on that employer’s behalf, to offer, provide, or arrange for coverage of abortion in any health-insurance policy or plan, flexible spending account, health savings account, or any other benefit provided to its employees, except for abortions performed in response to a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed. (b) Whoever violates this section shall be subject to the maximum penalty permitted under Texas law for the violation of a municipal ordinance governing public health, and each violation shall constitute a separate offense. (c) Any official of the city of Abilene, Texas, who becomes aware that an employer is aiding or abetting abortions by providing coverage of abortions in an employee-benefits package shall report that employer to the district attorneys of Taylor and Jones Counties, and to all other district attorneys with jurisdiction over that employer, for criminal prosecution under article 4512.2 of the Revised Civil Statutes and section 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code.
In short, any employee whose company within Abilene’s city limits provides health benefits paying for an abortion and takes the benefits is subject to thousands of dollars in fines, a report given to the Taylor and Jones County district attorneys, as well as every district attorney who has jurisdiction over that employer.
City Council Place 2 member Lynn Beard said he doesn’t believe the City of Abilene has an legal power over with the health benefits or crossing state lines.
“Tricare with the military, national chains that are in Abilene… A lot of those are written out of state and the local entity has no control over what’s written in that policy and what’s not in that policy,” Councilman Beard said.
Regarding crossing state lines to punish an Abilene resident who was referred to an a medical care center which provides pregnancy terminations, had an abortion or anything in between – he gave this example:
“A police officer from Abilene drives to New Mexico and tries to enforce the municipal ordinances of Clovis, New Mexico. They don’t have the authority to do that,” Councilman Beard described.
Councilman Beard is a very vocal pro-life supporter, but told KTAB/KRBC he just can’t agree on many of the additions in the Abilene ordinance. They agree on the sole purpose to make Abilene a sanctuary city, but not much else.
Abilene-based lawyer, Kristin Postell said one of her biggest concerns is the absence of a statute of limitations, which can be found in section 20, article 91 in the ordinance.
“Murder and sexual assault, those kinds of things don’t have statutes of limitations. But the way this is written, there is nothing that prevents anyone to say hey somebody had an abortion in the 80’s and, ‘I want to sue them,’” Postell explained.
Postell argued having an ordinance like this gets in the way of preexisting state laws, such as the Texas Heartbeat Act, by including a public and private clause. She said with the vagueness of the description, it could read to some as a way to achieve personal gain.
“It’s trying to give a private cause of action so someone can sue somebody and get money if they try to get an abortion,” Postell said.
In a post-interview with Pastor Beard, he addressed how this ordinance might be enforced:
“A lot of it is unknown because Lubbock, nearly two years in, no lawsuits have been filed. A lot of, quite frankly, are things and fears that people have, are most likely not going to happen. If anything, it’s saying we want you to think twice before you decide to go have an abortion done. To give you details, who knows how that might look or what that might look like? We don’t know yet. It hasn’t even been proven in Lubbock yet or any of these cities that have passed this ordinance. This ordinance is a preemptive strike to keep Planned Parenthood at bay and to keep them from coming into our city.”
Lastly, Councilman Beard, while he said he disagrees with a majority of the ordinance, he also said he’d like to encourage voters to read the entirety of the document before casting their vote in the ballot box.
“People need to really understand what they are saying we want to be the law of the land in Abilene, Texas,” Councilman Beard urged. “And they need to understand there are some dramatic differences between this and the Lubbock ordinance.”
Pastor Beard, however, said he only had one concern at the forefront of his mind and that is giving the babies a voice.
For those wanting to know more about the ordinance, KTAB/KRBC has the full document.
In addition, Pastor Beard said there will be an open forum and Q-&-A session at Fountain Gate Fellowship Church on North Willis, Sunday, October 23 at 6:30 p.m. for anyone who’d like to hear more from the makers of the ordinance.