Lawsuit to block Lubbock’s abortion ban dismissed as ordinance takes effect

Texas

LUBBOCK, Texas (Texas Tribune/KXAN) — A federal district judge dismissed on Tuesday a lawsuit to block a voter-approved abortion ban from taking effect in Lubbock, saying Planned Parenthood did not have standing to sue the city.

The decision comes just weeks after Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit to stop the Lubbock ordinance, which outlaws abortions and empowers “the unborn child’s mother, father, grandparents, siblings and half-siblings” to sue for damages against someone who helps others access an abortion.

Lubbock voters approved the “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance in May, after City Council members shot it down, saying it conflicted with state law and could be costly to defend. It took effect June 1.

Abortion rights advocates typically sue to prevent government officials from enforcing an unconstitutional abortion restriction. But the Lubbock ordinance is enforced solely by private citizens, not state or local actors. That enforcement structure has not been extensively tested in the courts, but the judge said his rulings could not prevent private parties from filing civil lawsuits in state court.

About two dozen cities have sought to ban abortions by declaring themselves so-called sanctuaries for the unborn. Lubbock, a city of 259,000 people, is the largest to do so, and the first to city to ban abortions that had an abortion provider in its city limits. Planned Parenthood opened a clinic to offer birth control and other services in Lubbock last year and began providing abortions this spring.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas previously sued seven East Texas towns that passed similar measures, but those cities weren’t home to abortion providers and had differently worded ordinances. The lawsuit was dropped.

The ruling is a window into how courts may receive lawsuits about a newly passed state law that bans abortions as early as six weeks. It follows the same blueprint as the Lubbock ordinance by barring state officials from enforcing the law. But it is far broader, allowing anyone to sue those who assist with an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, like by driving someone to a clinic or paying for the procedure. People who sue do not have to be connected to someone who had an abortion or be residents of Texas.

Neither the state law nor the Lubbock ordinance makes exceptions for people pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Last week, protesters rallied against Senate Bill 8, also known as the “heartbeat bill,” with a march to the Governor’s Mansion. Whole Women’s Health is one of the groups that attended — they’re currently hard at work to stop the bill from going into effect Sept. 1.

“This law creates a lot of hostility and surveillance and a difficult environment for providers,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder, president and CEO. “It allows any citizen to bring a lawsuit against providers or people who help someone they know and love access an abortion, so it creates a lot of tension and fear and intimidation — which I think is the purpose.”

Abortion rights rally at the Texas Capitol (Picture: KXAN/Mariano Garza)

The U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade said states can’t ban abortions before the fetus can survive outside the womb, starting around 23 or 24 weeks.

There were 53,565 total abortion procedures performed in Texas in 2020, according to statistics from Texas Health and Human Services. Of these, 84% — 45,148 total — were performed within about eight weeks or less since fertilization. Only eight terminations were performed between 21-25 weeks after fertilization and zero were performed on any patient later than that.

National abortion challenges

Nationally, conservative state legislatures are increasingly zooming in on abortion restrictions or all-out bans.

Last week, Lebanon, Ohio, became that state’s first city to ban abortion completely. While there are no abortion clinics in Lebanon, the bill prevents any clinics from coming in — in addition to potentially fining and jailing doctors who perform terminations, according to the Independent.

Meanwhile, a bill in Arkansas is currently being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. It would only allow abortions if the mother’s life was in danger, but not in cases of rape or incest. Doctors could also face criminal charges for performing procedures.

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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