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Centerville Becomes 30th ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn’ in Texas

Texas notched its 30th “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” this week.

The small town of Centerville became the southernmost city to join the initiative when it voted unanimously to outlaw abortion in city limits yesterday.

According to Centerville Mayor Noal Goolsby, the city’s legal counsel told him to avoid the proposal.

“I had our secretary check with our attorney in Waco, and he advised us not to take any action,” Goolsby said.

“But I want to go from my heart and what I have been praying about this.”

Although the initiative has stuck to the same basic principle — enforcing a ban through civil suits — it has evolved significantly since the first version in Waskom.

Originally, it held violators liable to the living kin of the aborted child, letting the family sue those who aided or abetted abortions. Lubbock’s landmark ordinance lets unrelated citizens sue, though for different relief.

By the time it reached Sterling City, the 29th “sanctuary” in Texas, the ordinance had broadened to allow any citizen to sue any violator. It also explicitly applies to chemical abortions, often called remote abortions.

All versions have carved out exceptions to save the mother from death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” The ordinance also bars fathers from participating in suits if they impregnated the mother through an act of rape, sexual assault, or incest. The mother of the unborn child cannot be sued.

Aside from citizen lawsuits, called “private enforcement” in the text, the ordinance allows the Centerville city government to enforce it as well. However, to dodge various court decisions, the city can only enforce the ordinance after reaching certain strict thresholds.

The Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey first applied the “undue burden” standard to abortion law, ruling that governments cannot substantially impede women seeking abortions. To comply with this ruling, the ordinance forbids government employees from participating in “private enforcement” lawsuits. It also specifies that Centerville cannot punish a violator unless a state or federal court decides that the punishment will not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

In another pair of Supreme Court decisions, the Texas-born Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case and June Medical v. Russo, the court allowed abortion facilities to sue on behalf of injuries suffered by their patients rather than the companies themselves. Thus, the Centerville ordinance says that the city cannot punish a violator unless a state or federal court rules that the violator lacks third-party standing to assert the rights of women seeking abortions in court.

Centerville, like all but one “sanctuary” in Texas, does not have an abortion clinic in town. Lubbock was the first city with a Planned Parenthood to adopt the ban. Planned Parenthood unsuccessfully sued the city after the vote.

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