SAN ANGELO, TX — Those leading the quest to have the City of San Angelo designate itself as a sanctuary city for the unborn were energized last Thursday as leaders of the effort filed paperwork with the City of San Angelo secretary to begin a petition drive that eventually will place the designation on a citywide ballot.
The referendum process requires the organizers to collect a minimum of 1,512 signatures from registered voters inside the city limits. Once that number of signatures is received and verified by the city clerk, the city council will take up the measure once more.
The council can vote to either adopt or reject the ordinance. If the council rejects the ordinance, those initiating the petition can request the ordinance to be placed on the ballot. The petition initiating committee claimed Thursday the odds are in their favor for winning a ballot referendum.
The petition initiating committee includes Pastor Paul Shero of Southgate Church of Christ; Stephanie Socha, Pro-Life Director of the San Angelo Catholic Diocese; former San Angelo City Councilman Marty Self; retired nurse Karen Jordan; De Herring; Juanita Brown; Becky Long; Pastor Gary Jenkins; and David Martinez.
The group is headed by Immanuel Baptist Church Senior Pastor Ryan Buck.
When the group first approached the San Angelo City Council to enact the sanctuary city ordinance, the council punted on Oct. 5. The council chambers were overflowing with supporters with lines formed outside the doors to the McNease Convention Center. It was the largest turnout of concerned citizens since 2013, including during the great trash contract debate or the fight against Lee Pfluger’s proposed sand transfer rail station that was to be built in the middle of the city.
On Oct. 5, the council agenda did not contain an item to pass an ordinance but the council met in executive session about the issue. When the council emerged, it voted 5-2 on directing city staff to prepare a proclamation of support for the State of Texas Heartbeat Act, a law that effectively outlaws abortions after a heartbeat of the baby is detected while still inside the mother’s womb. This happens at approximately 6 weeks into a pregnancy. The proclamation was presented on Nov. 2.
The Texas law has withstood court challenges so far from two lawsuits. One lawsuit at the federal level challenged the law at the US 5th Circuit of Appeals and another at the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to grant the Biden Department of Justice a stay to stop the law’s implementation. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the case this year.
Among the many arguments against having the City enact a sanctuary city for the unborn ordinance are that the ordinance is toothless as the State of Texas effectively outlawed abortions with its Heartbeat Act, also called Senate Bill 8, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on May 19.
But Buck points out that the Biden Administration stated on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision this year that it is committed to make abortion accessible to everyone who needs one in every zip code in the U.S.
“That is reason enough to consider this ordinance,” he said.
The proposed ordinance pressed by Buck and organizers outlaws abortion except when the life of the mother is in danger and also names morning after pills, drugs like mifepristone, misoprostol, “and any drug or medication that is used to terminate the life of an unborn child,” to be declared contraband. Buck points out that the proposed ordinance does not prohibit birth-control devices or contraceptives.
Enforcement mechanisms in the ordinance do not consider violations criminal offenses. Instead, like the State law, the enforcement is allowed via civil cases. That is, under Buck’s proposed ordinance, a citizen in the city can sue anyone but the mother for aiding or abetting that mother in obtaining an abortion.
Much confusion exists about the action taken by the San Angelo City Council on October 5. No ordinance was on the agenda. Instead the council met in executive session with City Attorney Theresa James who apparently advised the body that they had the option of doing nothing, voting on a proclamation in support of the pro-life position, or asking the city staff to prepare an ordinance, or to copy the ordinance draft as presented by Buck and company, for the council to vote up or down at a later meeting.
The council decided to defer creating an ordinance and instead voted to issue a proclamation.
Watch as the San Angelo City Council considers what to do about the sanctuary city of the unborn movement on Oct. 5:
To Buck and company, voting affirmatively for the proclamation was akin to voting against enacting an ordinance and against making San Angelo a sanctuary city for the unborn. Buck said that if the council would take up the ordinance instead of forcing his organization to petition for a ballot referendum, it will save the movement time and money that can be used at other cities across Texas. Already, 38 Texas cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities for the unborn.
Mayor Brenda Gunter, however, disagrees with having the council vote on an ordinance. She said controversial culture war issues like banning abortion should be voted upon and enacted by a popular vote. She said she believes Buck and company have an excellent chance of winning.
“This is just like the no-smoking ordinance,” Gunter said. In 2010, the city enacted an ordinance by ballot referendum that banned smoking inside buildings throughout the city. Ominous predictions were made back then that the ordinance would destroy the then-budding live music scene downtown. After the ordinance was enacted, however, the nightlife scene greatly expanded and there was widespread support for the smoking ban.
“What was important back then, as it is now, is the people had a direct voice in enacting the ordinance,” Gunter said, suggesting in doing so, there was more citizen support for the controversial law. “The citizens should have a right to vote when it comes to social issues. The citizens, not 7 people, need to vote on something like this,” she said.
Gunter also believes a ballot initiative will better inoculate the City against lawsuits. The City of Lubbock passed the sanctuary city ordinance via referendum and it was challenged in federal court in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood. The judge dismissed the case. However the judge did so not because the Lubbock ordinance was approved by ballot but because he ruled that Planned Parenthood had no standing.
The gathering of petitions started Nov. 18 and there was a heavy presence in churches throughout the city on Sunday in a well-organized effort. Buck plans to collect 4,000 signatures. Every signature sheet will be audited to check the signor’s eligibility. After the petition gathering is complete, Buck’s team will submit the ordinance to the city council and force a vote, up or down. If the vote fails in council, the ordinance will be placed on the ballot with an election date in May 2022.