Try it out in Texas
A pro-life city ordinance and state law test a new enforcement mechanism to avoid pre-enforcement lawsuits
A new strategy to enforce pro-life laws in Texas passed its first legal test last week. A federal judge dismissed pro-abortion groups’ lawsuit against a sanctuary city ordinance in Lubbock, Texas. Less than three weeks after the ordinance protecting the unborn within city limits passed with more than 60 percent of the vote, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups sued Lubbock. Other Texas cities had passed similar measures, but Lubbock was the first with an existing abortion facility to do so.
On Tuesday, Judge James Hendrix from the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas dismissed the lawsuit, saying the groups had no jurisdiction to sue since private individuals enforce the ordinance rather than the city. This decision marks the beginning of what could be an extended test of a new enforcement mechanism.
The ordinance allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion, including abortionists, abortion facility staff, and friends and family who participate. This mechanism circumvents the pre-enforcement challenges pro-abortion groups use to stop these laws before they can save any unborn lives.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May signed a bill that adopts similar measures to protect babies from abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. When states have passed heartbeat laws or similar protections, groups like Planned Parenthood sue, and judges block them before they can take effect. But the private enforcement may change that.
“The enforcement mechanism to some extent is tried in the ordinances, and so this is just extending that to statewide,” said Rebecca Parma, legislative associate for Texas Right to Life, a group that supported the bill.
“By taking the government out of the equation as the enforcer, that … will prevent these pre-enforcement challenges,” said Katie Glenn with Americans United for Life. But this, she said, is an untested model for pro-life laws: “Because it’s a new strategy, we’re definitely keeping a close eye to see how it plays out.”
She noted the government still has some involvement in enforcing the law because any lawsuit a private citizen files will process through the judicial system. That could be “considered enough to pull the state into [enforcement], which is what the law is seeking to avoid,” Glenn said. She’s waiting to see if any legal challenges come against Texas’ law between now and when it takes effect in September.
But, for now, the Lubbock city ordinance remains in effect following the judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit. Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday that patients seeking abortion will have to travel outside of the city, and the Lubbock facility’s website no longer lists the procedure as a service.
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