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Amarillo City Council rejects so-called abortion travel ban


Amarillo City Council rejects so-called abortion travel ban

Jun 11, 2024 | 11:17 pm ET
By Jayme Lozano Carver Juan Salinas II
Amarillo City Council rejects so-called abortion travel ban
Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley talks during the City Council Tuesday May 28. Voters may have the final say on a proposed abortion "travel ban." (Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune)

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After months of debate, the Amarillo City Council rejected a so-called abortion travel ban, championed by statewide anti-abortion activists and certain residents.

The council’s decision made Amarillo the largest conservative Texas city to reject the proposed policy, which would forbid the use of the city’s roads and highways to seek an abortion out of state. Now, a group of residents who petitioned for the ordinance will decide if the issue goes to voters in the Texas Panhandle city this fall.

In rejecting the proposal, Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley said the city has no authority to put the proposed policy in place.

“What you’re asking me to do is put forward this ordinance and enact it into city law, that would exercise an authority I don’t believe I have,” Stanley said.

The council first debated the issue last fall when a string of other Texas cities and counties passed similar local laws, which abortion rights advocates and legal experts consider dubious and unconstitutional.

Amarillo residents, backed by Texas anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson, forced the council to revisit the issue this year after they gathered enough petition signatures of registered voters.

[After pause, this Texas city is set to reconsider banning travel to access an abortion]

Two versions of the ordinance were considered during Tuesday’s meeting. Both were rejected on a 4-1 vote. Only Council member Don Tipps supported the policies. The packed council chambers erupted into cheers and clapping when the mayor made the vote final.

One was the original ordinance proposed last year by anti-abortion advocates who don’t live in Amarillo. The other was an amended version, a compromise from the petitioning committee. That version offered few differences.

After hours of public comment, council members still had questions. Council member Tom Scherlen asked if companies that cover abortion in their insurance plans would be liable for aiding and abetting.

Steve Austin, a representative with the petitioning committee, encouraged this to be voted in and make it illegal, saying the companies would follow the law.

“In my opinion, that is communism,” Scherlen argued. “Where I come from, you don’t dictate the law.”

The city and its residents have been entangled in the abortion debate for several months. Part of the council’s hesitation has been the strict state law, which bans nearly all abortions once a heartbeat is detected, except if the mother’s life is in danger. Even then, doctors argue the laws are confusing.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Amarillo residents said the ordinance went too far, wouldn’t benefit local businesses, and is likely unconstitutional. One of the residents, Michael Ford, who considers himself pro-life, said the ordinance is more focused on making a political statement than carefully navigating the law's intricacies.

“I firmly believe that what women and families need most in crisis is love, compassion, and support,” Ford said. “Not the threat of public shame and humiliation.”

Other residents, in support of the ordinance, said it would protect unborn children. Jacob Myers said while the area is conservative, the city should still “undermine the radical left.”

“We need to stand with our pro-life laws and legislate laws and legislation,” Myers said.

The Potter-Randall County Medical Society, a group representing 400 physicians across various specialties in the Amarillo area, released a statement expressing concerns with the ordinance. The group said the policy would prevent medical providers from discussing all available treatment options with pregnant women facing a health crisis, until it becomes an emergency.

Dr. Richard McKay spoke for the society at the meeting. He said the issue of abortion has proven difficult for physicians both before and after Roe v. Wade.

“I'm concerned that we will return to the horror stories I saw in the emergency room when ladies came in from having an abortion on the kitchen table,” McKay said.

Other cities and counties in Texas have passed ordinances to prohibit traveling through their jurisdictions for an abortion outside the state. This includes the cities of Athens, Abilene, Plainview, San Angelo, Odessa, Muenster and Little River-Academy, and Mitchell, Goliad, Lubbock, Dawson, Cochran and Jack counties.

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