Yet another Texas county has passed a law prohibiting abortion-seekers from traveling its roads. In doing so, experts say, the county has set itself up for years of lawsuits ahead. Here’s the full story.
An Emerging Trend
Earlier in 2023, Morton and Whiteface counties in Texas banned abortions within their borders.
Cities like Lubbock and Plainview did the same.
They Stand Alone
But none of those counties or municipalities directly border a state that allows abortion.
That’s not the case for Cochran County, though.
Cochran borders neighboring New Mexico, where abortion is still legal following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022.
Thou Shalt Not Pass
And, not only did Cochran County ban abortion itself, it also banned travel within its borders by people who were trying to get to another state for an abortion.
Not Allowed to Help
The new ordinance does not apply directly to a woman seeking an abortion.
But anyone who’s trying to help her make a break for New Mexico could face legal issues.
They All Chimed In
The new ban was adopted by county commissioners during their regular September meeting after hearing from several concerned citizens.
The Bible Tells Them So
All those who spoke were in favor of the ban.
Many of them talked about how their Christian faith influenced that view.
Even with strong support from the local residents, though, experts say the ban could be problematic for the county moving forward.
They Shielded Themselves
Cochran County tried to build some protection into the new statute by adopting the private enforcement that’s part of the statewide abortion ban called the Heartbeat Act.
Anyone Can Blow the Whistle
Private enforcement means that any citizen can file a suit against someone they suspect of trying to aid a woman in getting an abortion.
Tables Could Turn
But County Attorney Amanda Martin says constitutional protections could easily turn the tables and lead to women and their helpers suing the county.
Charles Rhodes, a law professor at South Texas College, agrees. “The Supreme Court has given a lot of protection to the right to travel from state to state in a lot of prior decisions,” he says.
Ready for Battle
Still, the county seems ready to take on all comers.
Plenty of Support
Pastor Mark Lee Dickson said that he had a former Texas solicitor general, Jonathan F. Mitchell, lined up to defend the county for free if needed.
County Clerk Lisa Smith had another legal concern, though, wondering if there would be a problem because the new law failed to separate church and state.
Is It a Myth?
One of the commissioners shot back that “there is no separation of church and state.”
They’re Fighting Evil
And Dickson added his two cents, saying the county had a duty to fight society’s evils. He also says there’s no problem with professing their faith, even though he points out that there is no mention of religion in the new ordinance.
Enjoy the Ride
The ease with which the abortion and travel ban passed in Cochran County might be the last bit of smooth road the area sees for quite a while.
A Legal Jericho?
Both abortion rights advocates and pro-lifers may well turn the last stop before the New Mexico border into a legal battle royale.
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