SAN ANGELO, Texas — San Angelo has been deliberating about becoming a “sanctuary city for the unborn” since an initiating committee approached city officials in November 2021. As citizens decided whether to vote for or against the proposition on November 8th, questions have been raised about whether the ordinance would be legally enforceable.
Abortions that happen after a fetal heartbeat is detected were outlawed in Texas when Governor Greg Abbott signed the Texas Heartbeat Act into law in 2021. The law also imposes severe criminal penalties on providers and doctors who perform or aid in abortions. Cities that choose to become a “sanctuary city for the unborn” take the law one step further and outlaw the practice within a city’s limits.
So far, 43 cities and towns across Texas have passed ordinances to become sanctuary cities are considering. People in both San Angelo and Abilene will vote on whether to pass ordinances that would make each city a “sanctuary city for the unborn” on Tuesday, November 8th.
The language in both San Angelo’s and Abilene’s ordinances is almost identical and, according to reporting by Big Country Homepage, there may be legal questions about how enforceable such ordinances are.
San Angelo’s City Attorney, Theresa James told Concho Valley Homepage staff, “I’ve looked at a lot of ordinances, they are all basically the same.” James continued by pointing out that even cities in other states had very similar ordinances.
KTAB reported some of the most controversial issues with the proposed ordinance were abortion coverage — which could prohibit certain employer-provided health benefits and subject any employee whose company is in city limits and provides health benefits that pay for abortion to thousands of dollars in fines. The proposed ordinance could also allow charges to be raised on abortions held outside city limits and the state.
Abilene-based lawyer Kristin Postell told KTAB that the way Abilene’s proposed ordinance was written could disrupt preexisting state laws, such as the Texas Heartbeat Act, by including public and private clauses. Postell added individuals could use the ordinance’s language to achieve personal gain.
One of Postells biggest concerns with Abilene’s proposed ordinance is the absence of a statute of limitations, which San Angelo’s ordinance also lacks.
“There is nothing that prevents anyone to say ‘hey somebody had an abortion in the 80s and I want to sue them,” Postell told KTAB.
Concerns have also been raised about how difficult the ordinance would be to amend or revoke. If the proposed ordinance is approved, it must be enforced as it reads currently, with no option to edit the language in the future.
“This measure needs to be scrutinized,” said former San Angelo mayor Joseph (J.W.) Lown in an unpublished editorial he shared with Concho Valley Homepage reporters. “If passed, it could take decades to reverse, and real people in real situations will suffer along the way.”
Voters in San Angelo will decide whether Proposition A becomes an ordinance on Tuesday, November 8th. The full text of the proposed ordinance is below. Abilene’s proposed ordinance is also included.