Lubbock County outlawed transporting a person on its roads for an abortion, becoming the latest and largest Texas jurisdiction to enact such a ban as some localities work to restrict a procedure already illegal in the state.
Three of the West Texas county’s five all-male commissioners approved the ordinance Monday after hearing from Lubbock locals and advocates from the neighboring state of New Mexico, which has become a haven for Texans seeking abortions. County Judge Curtis Parrish and Commissioner Gilbert Flores abstained from voting.
The ban doesn’t apply to cities within the county, including the city of Lubbock, which has about 264,00 of the county’s 317,000 residents.
The measure affirms Lubbock as a “sanctuary county for the unborn” and outlaws the transportation of people for abortions in the unincorporated parts of the county, as well as the distribution of abortion-inducing medications. Located about five hours west of Dallas, Lubbock County is crossed by major roads on the way to New Mexico and is home to one of the state’s largest public research institutions, Texas Tech University.
Mark Lee Dickson, the anti-abortion activist and leader behind the “sanctuary for the unborn” movement, spoke at the Monday commissioner’s court meeting where he compared the anti-abortion push to the drive to banish slavery in the U.S.
“I want for the day, coast-to-coast, that abortion is considered a great moral, social, political wrong and that it is outlawed in every single state,” Dickson said.
Since the state’s 2021 abortion ban, known as Senate Bill 8, Texans have increasingly crossed state lines to get abortions. New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Illinois are some of the most accessible options for those leaving the Lone Star State.
Similar to SB 8, the abortion travel ban is carried out through civil lawsuits.
Prior to Lubbock County’s vote, five Texas cities and counties had restricted abortion-related travel on local roads as part of a conservative grassroots movement to make highways the latest arena in the abortion fight, Reuters reported. But the legal standing of such an ordinance is unclear, in large part because the U.S. Constitution protects the right to interstate travel.
“We haven’t had this kind of issue tested, so it’s really kind of a case of first impression,” said Seema Mohapatra, a health law expert and professor at Southern Methodist University.
How the ban is enforced is another issue entirely. Short of law enforcement blockades, it would be difficult to know who is traveling through the unincorporated parts of Lubbock with the intention of getting an abortion out-of-state, Mohapatra said. Fear of unknown repercussions will likely limit abortion-related travel more than any lawsuits that come out of the law.
The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the ban or its implementation.
County Judge Parrish raised concerns about the legal and practical feasibility of the ordinance and proposed moving the vote to March of next year so the county could assess the fiscal impact. A representative from the District Attorney’s office also asked for additional time to amend the ordinance, although both extension requests were denied.
“This does not mean that we are not a pro-life county,” Parrish said. “But we shouldn’t need a piece of paper that says you can’t drive on our roads to be known as a pro-life county.”
With more than 317,000 residents in 2022, Lubbock County is significantly larger than the other Texas counties that have adopted bans on abortion-related travel. Mitchell, Goliad and Cochran counties, which outlawed abortion travel in recent months, each have a population of fewer than 10,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The win in a larger, more well-known county, could propel Dickson’s movement forward to other large jurisdictions with conservative local governments.
“I would expect that we will see more [ordinances] like this one,” Mohapatra said.
Amarillo City Council, located a few hours north of Lubbock, will consider a similar law on Tuesday, which could result in a future council or city-wide vote, Reuters reported.