Clarendon City Council rejects ordinance banning travel to access abortion outside of Texas

Northbound motorists drive on I-27 south of Plainview, a route traveled by many that seek abortion healthcare while headed out of Texas. (Mark Rogers For The Texas Tribune, Mark Rogers For The Texas Tribune)

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LUBBOCK — The City Council of Clarendon, a rural Panhandle town, rejected a proposed ordinance seeking to prohibit traveling through city limits to get an abortion in another state. Their 3-0 decision on Thursday makes Clarendon one of the first cities in Texas to reject an abortion travel ban as more conservative cities are approving similar measures.

Council members heard from people for and against the “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” initiative Thursday. It was the second time city leaders for Clarendon, a town of just over 1,700 people lying about 60 miles southeast of Amarillo, heard arguments on the issue. The council cited current state law in their decision.

“Our business is making sure our city gets water, streets to drive on, trash is taken out and much more,” said Eulaine McIntosh, a Clarendon council member. “We’re not allowed to take action beyond state law, and this ordinance comes very close to overstepping state law.”

Clarendon is located in bright red Donley County, where 87% of voters supported Donald Trump over Joe Biden.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, anti-abortion activists passed abortion sanctuary city ordinances, which prohibited the procedure within city limits. Texas then enacted one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the U.S., and the fight over access was taken to the next level as the same activists began targeting interstate travel for women seeking abortions.

The proposed ordinance did not call for pregnant women to be punished for having abortions out of state, it would have opened the door for private lawsuits against anyone who aids someone seeking the procedure with funds or transportation. This would be enforced through private lawsuits from other citizens, creating a system for people to report their fellow residents and collect reward money.

While the ordinance states pregnant women would not be punished, anti-abortion legal crusader Jonathan Mitchell has filed legal petitions seeking to depose women he claims traveled out of state for abortions. Mitchell is working with anti-abortion activists pushing the travel ban on a municipal level.

Legal scholars have said these so-called abortion travel bans are legally dubious and have questionable enforcement mechanisms, making them more like a ceremonial declaration than a legally binding statute.

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.

The cities of Llano and Chandler have considered the ordinance as well, but both held off on making decisions to approve or reject the travel ban. The Amarillo City Council also declined to immediately pass the ordinance after months of consideration, but may soon have to reconsider it after a citizen-led petition was submitted to the city.

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