Amarillo, Texas is a quiet city in the Texas panhandle, best known for its prominence in country songs. Amarillo’s hub is home to around 200,000 residents, surrounded by wide open spaces and blissfully quiet rural areas.
It was an unlikely spot for an abortion showdown, but in October of this year, activists and reporters, outraged over an implausible proposal, overran the city. The Amarillo City Council decided to take the state’s already restrictive abortion laws one step further by announcing it was considering an “abortion travel ban.”
Mayor Cole Stanley and the five-member council, perhaps responding to the alarming nationwide backlash from the proposal, decided to delay their decision on the ban and await feedback from the public.
The abortion travel ban, if enacted, would make it illegal to use the city’s roads to travel to another state for an abortion. Additionally, anyone who accompanies or facilitates the transport of a pregnant woman for an abortion would face legal consequences for “aiding and abetting” the criminal.
The council postponed a meeting about the proposal but recently announced that it plans to review the ordinance in mid-December. During this meeting, the council will deliberate on the “most appropriate course of action.”
With Texas already under fire for denying a woman abortion service following a devastating Trisomy 18 diagnosis at 21 weeks of pregnancy, the timing of an “abortion travel ban” couldn’t be worse. The woman was forced to travel across state lines to have the procedure.
If she were a resident of Amarillo, she would have broken the law if the travel ban had been imposed.
Residents of Amarillo fear that If this rule is implemented, it will create even more obstacles for women, who already have to travel long distances for medical help, to get abortion services even when they are medically indicated.
Just as troubling is the idea that enforcing the law will rely on residents reporting other residents for reward money. Amarillo considers itself a close-knit and friendly community, and the proposed travel ban would pit them against each other.
Amarillo is considered to be a pocket of conservative voters, but pro-life Council member Tom Scherlen has voiced his reservations about the proposed “abortion travel ban.” He explained, “At some point in time, I’m going to have to separate my feelings from what I need to do as a council member.”
Some Amarillo residents are dramatically opposing what they call “abortion trafficking.” It’s a designation that pro-life activists are pleased to embrace. Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life East Texas and the creator of the proposal, told The Texas Tribune that restricting “abortion trafficking” will not interfere with a resident’s right to travel. He points out that the law is designed to impose penalties on residents who use county roads to “traffic pregnant mothers across state lines” for an abortion.
Amarillo isn’t the first to attempt to impose “abortion travel bans” in Texas. Goliad, Lubbock, Mitchell, Cochran, Little-River Academy, and Odessa have passed similar bans. If the ban is passed, Amarillo would be the most populous Texas city to enact it.
Similar bans in other states are facing legal challenges. The U.S. Justice Department expressed interest in two lawsuits from Alabama, emphasizing the importance of protecting the right to interstate travel. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that the DOJ is committed to defending this right, noting that the Supreme Court has previously ruled against states’ rights to penalize third parties for assisting others in traveling across state lines.
In November, Senator Nate Johnson (TX-D) introduced Senate Bill 45 to prohibit abortion travel bans. Johnson argued that such prohibitions infringe upon the constitutional right to travel, characterizing it as an unwarranted intrusion of Big Government at the local level.
While the ordinance doesn’t employ physical barriers or checkpoints at the Texas-New Mexico border, legal experts argue it constitutes a violation. Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge and professor at Harvard Law School, asserts that these proposals raise constitutional concerns as they impact and essentially penalize interstate travel.
An “abortion travel ban” constitutes a political role reversal. Conservatives typically believe in limited government and the right to live free of restrictive regulations. In contrast, Democrats believe forcing people to accept their views is the only way forward. But as Texas doubles down on its efforts to control abortion, it is proving that, in this case, Democrats may be the voice of reason.