A car drives down a road in Muleshoe, Bailey County, Texas

A car drives down a road in Muleshoe, Bailey County, Texas on February 21, 2020.

(Photo: Marica van der Meer/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Texas Abortion Rights Advocates Vow to Fight 'Unconstitutional' Local Travel Bans

One former state lawmaker said the laws aim to create "a reproductive prison in the state of Texas."

Rights advocates in Texas on Wednesday said they will fight laws that have been passed in at least three counties so far that would outlaw travel on local roads to get abortion care—ordinances that they say are unconstitutional and should never have been approved in places including Cochran County, which borders New Mexico and where officials unanimously greenlit the measure last week.

The county's five commissioners approved the proposal made by Mark Lee Dickson, a pro-forced pregnancy activist who directs Right To Life of East Texas and has launched an effort to convince local governments to adopt so-called "sanctuary city for the unborn" policies. Dickson has been circulating a letter signed by at least 20 state lawmakers in support of the ordinances.

Dickson told the commissioners that barring people from using roads in the county to travel for abortion care would "close some of the loopholes that exist in this fight."

The law would be enforced through private civil lawsuits, like Senate Bill 8, the state law that bans abortion care as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Authorities would impose penalties on anyone who knowingly transports someone who is seeking an abortion, for which pro-forced pregnancy groups and politicians have invented a new so-called crime: "abortion trafficking."

"This is absolutely egregious—not to mention unconstitutional and unenforceable," said the Brigid Alliance, which provides travel and other logistical support to people seeking abortions across the United States. "But let's be clear: These antics will not stop the Brigid Alliance from our critical work to get people to their abortion care, whatever it takes."

Advocacy groups like the Brigid Alliance say the travel bans are in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to travel, but the enforcement mechanism could make them difficult to challenge in court.

"The purpose of these laws is not to meaningfully enforce them," Neesha Davé, executive director of the Lilith Fund, an Texas-based abortion fund, told The Washington Post last month. "It's the fear that's the point. It's the confusion that's the point."

Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who is now a senior adviser at Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said the continued success of Dickson's campaign would create "a reproductive prison in the state of Texas."

"You may believe this isn't going to affect you because it's in some tiny little town you're never going to drive through," Davis told the Texas Tribune last week. "This is an effort, one by one by one, to create a statewide ban against travel to other states."

As Caroline Kitchener reported in the Post last month, local lawmakers in towns including Llano and Chandler, Texas have rebuffed Dickson's calls to pass anti-travel ordinances, with one conservative councilmember in Llano saying the proposal was "overreaching."

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