City Council defers anti-abortion ordinance
Members table controversial measure; voter referendum among future possibilities
At the urging of numerous members of the community, including local political candidates, the Midlothian City Council had placed the matter of declaring itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn” on its agenda for last Tuesday’s regular semimonthly meeting.
But following a nearly two-hour discussion that included an executive session to discuss the ordinance with legal counsel, city fathers deferred action to a future meeting pending further investigation. The option of a citywide referendum was floated.
The proposed ordinance outlaws abortions and the use of abortion-inducing drugs in the city; makes it illegal to knowingly aid or abet an abortion within the city; and authorizes civil action against anyone in violation of the ordinance, similar to the Texas Heartbeat Law that went into effect last September.
Mayor Richard Reno said the ordinance as written was very aggressive, and a couple of items had been pulled from it before it even made it into the agenda packet.
“It goes beyond stopping abortions,” Reno said. “It gets into the lives of our citizens. So I agree, if we’re going to do this and pass this ordinance, we need to put it before the people and have the people vote on the ordinance as written. I thought the initial intent was to stop abortion providers. This goes well beyond that.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ted Miller cited media reports that several Texas cities have dropped efforts to enact anti-abortion ordinances and have opted to refer it to voters instead.
“Letting seven men decide this tonight is not the right way to go,” Miller said. “This is a law that has to be reinforced with counsel and it has to be done the right way the first time.”
City Attorney Joe Gorfida also raised some questions about the wording of the ordinance, in particular a severability clause that calls for a procedural mechanism the city does not have.
Councilmember Justin Coffman said he supported the resolution, but that it needed to be studied further. Even so, Coffman, who is a minister, said he and councilmembers Walter Darrach and Hud Hartson agreed to put the item on the agenda to start the discussion.
“Some concerns with some of the specific wording of this ordinance (were) expressed,” Coffman said, “and we simply did not have the time necessary to adequately address these concerns and make adjustments in order to give it to the council for review in a timely manner before this meeting.”
Coffman made and Hartson seconded the motion to table the ordinance pending further study, and the motion was approved unanimously. One of the possibilities moving forward is the formation of a citizens’ committee to come up with an ordinance that works for the city.
“Either way we go tonight, the fact that we are even having this discussion is a win for pro-life awareness in our community,” Coffman said.
The proposed ordinance was written by Texas Right to Life and reviewed by an attorney.
Ashley Leenerts, a legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, told the council the ordinance has been in the works for more than a year and was being led by citizens of the community. Leenerts said more than three dozen Texas cities have passed similar ordinances.
About a dozen speakers, including Ellis County Judge Todd Little, addressed the council, almost all in support of a pro-life ordinance.
Little read from the resolution the county Commissioners’ Court approved in January 2020 declaring Ellis County a sanctuary county for the unborn, and also read a passage from the Declaration of Independence. Answering a question from councilmember Clark Wickliffe, Little did clarify that the county measure was a resolution and not an ordinance.
But not all speakers voiced support. Midlothian resident James Washington spoke in opposition of the proposal, calling it an overreach of government into personal matters at the expense of other serious issues such as traffic hazards and sex offenders. Another speaker, Dana Rowe, questioned the timing of the ordinance. Both urged a public referendum to allow all city voters to weigh in. Mayor Reno said the city received 11 responses in all in opposition.