A pro-life rally to encourage residents to support making Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Garden Park.
The event is open to the public with Odessa Mayor Javier Joven, council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta, pro-life author Amy Blackwell and Mark Lee Dickerson, director of Right to Life East Texas, planning to attend.
“We’ll have food trucks out there and a trumpeter who will start us off with a number,” said event organizer Jamie Berryhill, who noted that even though the issue is serious, he wants the event to be a fun gathering, We’re using the words, “hope,” “life” and “healing.”
“(Banning abortion) is not just about protecting the unborn,” Berryhill, the longtime executive director of Mission Messiah, said. “It’s also about looking out for the well-being of women who’ve had abortions, many of whom have suffered many years of mental and emotional anguish over their decisions.”
Prior to the event, organizers plan to erect 3,500-3,700 crosses in the park, which represent 10 percent of the estimated 36,000 abortions that have been carried out in Odessa since Roe v. Wade was passed, Berryhill said. The 36,000 number was determined by looking at national statistics on abortion and adjusting that estimate based on the size of Odessa, Berryhill said.
Joven recently said that he hopes the rally encourages the community to lobby city council members to support passing a local ordinance that would make abortions illegal in Odessa.
Joven and local health officials acknowledge that abortions have not been legally performed in Odessa in at least a decade. But Joven said enacting an ordinance would prevent that from changing.
“What we’re doing is having a community discussion for the reason that if the city council, which I have a split council on many things; it’s going to have to take the community to convince the council, and also have a public debate that this is what they want to have, because this is my decision, this is a community decision, and this is how you have to engage,” Joven said during a recent joint town hall meeting with Midland Mayor Patrick Payton.
Joven and a handful of pro-life supporters raised the idea of making Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn during a January council meeting. But the issue was dropped after four council members, Tom Sprawls, Mari Willis, Steve Thompson and Detra White, indicated that they wouldn’t support it.
Joven, Matta and Swanner expressed support.
On Thursday, White said she hasn’t changed her stance on the ordinance.
“It’s not about changing my mind,” White said. “The Mayor and the other two council members have never reached out to us, or brought it up at a work session for discussion.
“The Mayor has never called to talk to me about the pros and cons. I am pro-life, but I’ve never been faced with some of the things some women considering abortion have faced. It’s a complicated issue.”
White and Thompson have both expressed concern that abortion is a federal issue, and that the city has more pressing local issues to address.
They also question the legality of passing a local ordinance and whether that could leave Odessa vulnerable to a lawsuit.
Joven addressed those concerns during the April 22 town hall meeting. While Odessa’s mayor said it was his top priority despite any lawsuits it might provoke, Midland Mayor Patrick Payton, expressed less enthusiasm about Midland passing an abortion ordinance.
“Our legal team is looking into it,” Payton said during the forum. “But I’m not going to let someone come in and sue our pants off.”
Joven continues to call it his top issue.
“We’ve already started the discussion (about a local ordinance) in Odessa, and the thing is, it doesn’t address Roe v. Wade for the reason that’s federal level, and who’s going to take that on is Congress – they’re the ones that make the laws and rescind them,” Joven said. “Simply all we’re asking for the City of Odessa; remember 26 cities in the state of Texas have already done it.”
Joven and other supporters say that as an “incorporated city,” Odessa has the right to pass a local ordinance that determines a community’s standards.
“I’m willing to take that risk of being sued,” said Joven, who said getting the ordinance passed is his top priority as mayor. “Because let me tell you, we can all be sued for something.”
White doesn’t quite agree with that line of thinking.
“As elected officials we have to be diligent about not doing something that could open us up to a lawsuit,” she said. “Sometimes, you decide it’s worth the risk.
“But I don’t even know about how enforcement would work. Do we have the resources locally to enforce this ordinance? What about federal laws? We don’t have anyone in this area that is even doing abortions.”
White said Joven in December presented council members with a proposed ordinance that included wording that concerned her.
“It included language that stated anyone with knowledge of someone getting an abortion or that drove someone to get an abortion could be charged,” White said. “I don’t know how to respond to it. How would you enforce and prosecute that?”