Abortion Is Legal—but Texas Cities Keep Trying to Outlaw It
Edinburg, Texas, was the latest city that tried to become a "sanctuary city for the unborn" and outlaw abortion within city limits.
Another day, another Texas government trying to outlaw abortion.
The latest is Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city that tried last week to pass an ordinance that would have made it “unlawful” to provide an abortion or help someone access an abortion within the city.
At an Edinburg city council meeting last Tuesday, abortion advocates dominated more than three hours of public testimony against the proposal—and at the end of the night, not a single council member made a motion to vote on the anti-abortion ordinance, and the measure effectively died.
Elsewhere in Texas, abortion advocates have been less successful at preventing similar ordinances. In Lubbock, for example, after the city council rejected a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance, voters ended up passing the measure in May. (Last month, a federal district judge dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to block the Lubbock ordinance from going into effect.)
Around two dozen cities have declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn” in the last two years. Last year, the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity (which I’m on the board of) and Texas Equal Access Fund sued seven east Texas cities that passed anti-abortion ordinances that called abortion rights groups “criminal organizations” and prohibited them from operating with city limits. The lawsuit was dropped after the cities agreed to revise the ordinances’ language.
Zaena Zamora, executive director of Frontera Fund, and Nancy Cárdenas Peña, Texas director of policy and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, are two of the advocates who spoke at the Edinburg council meeting. I talked with them last week about the harm inflicted by these anti-choice ordinances and what you can do to help fight against them.
When it comes to these local ordinances, it’s important to know that they don’t outweigh federal law. The right to an abortion is protected under Roe v. Wade, even in cities that have declared abortion unlawful. But the ordinances still cause mass confusion, spread misinformation, instill fear and stigma, and criminalize the important and necessary work of reproductive justice groups across the state.
This interview has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Rewire News Group: How are you feeling knowing that the Edinburg ordinance has effectively died?
Zaena Zamora: It was an amazing experience being at the city council meeting and witnessing our community turn out to support abortion access. It was affirming and powerful to hear the testimonies of community members and to see the group of supporters who were outside the meeting room cheering them on. Being an abortion fund and advocating for abortion rights in Texas is often an uphill and emotional battle, and this past year’s legislation was particularly brutal.
This was such an important win for us because this is our community. Community members showed up, they were passionate and fought for our rights, and we won. It’s exactly the inspiration we needed.
Nancy Cárdenas Peña: I can’t quite put it into words, but I’ll try my best. It was an energizing moment that felt amazing and powerful. On one hand, you had the direct response of our collective efforts to bring out residents who played such an important role in the process. But it was also a reminder for anyone who lives outside of the valley: Religion is not synonymous with anti-choice. The Rio Grande Valley is not anti-choice. It was a purely grassroots local movement created from the strength of local leaders.
Hours of testimonies and hundreds of people showing up at Edinburg City Hall against the anti-abortion ordinance, the city council refused to move it forward and has thus, died. We celebrate today and vow to continue our work to ensure safe abortion care in the Rio Grande Valley!
— Nancy Cárdenas Peña (@ncardenastx) July 21, 2021
How would the ordinance have affected Texans seeking abortions—particularly Black and brown Texans, low-income families, Spanish-speaking folks, and undocumented individuals who are already disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions and stigma—in an area where abortion access is already limited?
ZZ: Technically, the ordinance would not have affected people’s access to abortion in Edinburg because there is no abortion provider in the city. However, it would have created a dangerous narrative and spread false information to those seeking abortion. Anti-abortion ordinances are racist policies because those who are most affected are BIPOC individuals and, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, undocumented individuals and those with English language barriers. Part of the goal of these anti-abortion ordinances is to create confusion around the legality of abortion. The language used in this ordinance also further stigmatizes and shames those who want to have an abortion and stokes fear in those who would help them.
NCP: It’s important to acknowledge the patterns of anti-choice policy across Texas and how that plays out in our own cities. The ordinance that the city of Edinburg attempted to pass was one of many attempts by anti-choice organizations to incorporate municipalities into their own political agenda. It strained the ability for medical professionals to exercise their expertise when it comes to the health of their patients and even adopted language around $10,000 bounties for people doing abortion advocacy work within the Edinburg city limits.
This was the first time we’ve seen local policy incorporate the newly adopted Senate Bill 8, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott and set to take effect in September, with specific language about the criminalization of a safe medical procedure in a community that is criminalized enough with the presence of border patrol, ICE, DEA, and police. Black and brown communities are often the recipients of criminalization efforts, and it’s important to note that although the restrictions of anti-choice bills are terrible for Texas, it’s incredibly more severe for Black and brown folks who deserve access to the full spectrum of reproductive health-care services.
Border communities like the Rio Grande Valley are restricted by internal immigration checkpoints that prevent people without papers from leaving. It’s imperative that our work continue to preserve the only remaining abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley from anti-choice efforts like the one we saw in Edinburg.
If these ordinances don’t actually outlaw abortion, why is it important they be rejected? What is the impact of even one person believing abortion is illegal because of them?
ZZ: I think it’s important to let our elected officials know that community members are not going to let them dictate their morals on their citizens. For those who seek abortion, it’s powerful to see their community stand up for their rights and to know that there is a network of support available to them. Particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, I feel like had the ordinance passed it would have created a domino effect of other neighboring municipalities adopting similar anti-abortion laws.
Abortion is lifesaving health care. Having even one person believe it is illegal can fan the flames of misinformation, which can have a devastating impact on a community. Look at COVID!
Zaena, ED at @LaFronteraFund: "No matter what happens here today Frontera Fund is going to fight to make sure abortion is safe and legal." pic.twitter.com/6hcOPiIFcS
— Lilith Fund (@lilithfund) July 20, 2021
NCP: The fight should not be just at the state legislature. There is incredible power in organizing locally. When you observe a pattern of cities adopting anti-choice language, especially in areas with clinics, it’s not a matter of “if” this comes to our city, it’s “when.” One of the biggest obstacles we face is education of the community when it comes to determining if abortion is legal or not.
It’s important to note the options Texans have in spite of the anti-choice rhetoric. Call your local clinic. Call your local abortion fund. Texans still have options when it comes to accessing abortion care regardless of the narrative spun by people who would deny Texans the freedom to make their own reproductive health-care decisions.
What would it mean for the work of abortion funds and practical support organizations to be considered “unlawful” under these types of anti-choice ordinances?
ZZ: Abortion funds and practical support organizations provide a vital service to the communities they serve. As I said in my public comment, Frontera Fund pledged help to over 400 people in our community. These types of anti-choice ordinances directly name abortion funds (not specific, but in general) as organizations that “aid and abet” and put us in danger of frivolous civil litigation and harassment that impedes us from doing our work.
What can you tell people who want to get involved and speak against harmful legislation?
ZZ: One way to help is to just say the word “abortion.” It is not a dirty word. It is health care! Talk to your friends, family, and community members about why access to safe and legal abortion is important to you and your community. Check out and support Frontera Fund and sign up to volunteer, donate, and/or learn more about the work we do. Or check out your local abortion fund by going to abortionfunds.org. And for readers in Texas, go to needabortion.org.
NCP: There are plenty of ways to get involved and fight back against restrictive abortion bills. Please follow the organizations that are working on the ground. Follow us on social media. Donate to keep our work alive. There is always a space for folks who hold a passion to fight for their communities. Invest resources with the leadership and power that already exists in the Rio Grande Valley.
The activism in the Rio Grande Valley needs to be led by the amazing talent, especially the new generation of people who are ready to fight for their communities, that live in the Rio Grande Valley. We’ve consistently heard stereotypes from entities, individuals, organizations about a “lack of organizing power” in the Rio Grande Valley, but since the defeat of the anti-choice ordinance in Edinburg, it’s been a little quiet on their end and the silence is appreciated.