TEXAS VIEW: West Texas communities cross the line with abortion travel bans

THE POINT: These ordinances constitute a governmental overreach and are likely to be found unconstitutional.

A year and a half ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court took away the constitutional right of women to receive an abortion, this state’s junior U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, wanted to have it both ways.

Cruz had long advocated for the repeal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal throughout the country, and he celebrated that repeal as the culmination of 49 years of hard work by anti-abortion activists.

Nonetheless, Cruz also understood that the 2022 decision, which came in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, would alarm millions of voters in this country, so he tried to soften its impact.

“While the left manically argues that the Dobbs decision makes abortion illegal throughout the country, that is false,” Cruz said. “What this decision does is leave abortion policy up to the states and returns power to the American people — which is exactly how questions of abortion were handled before Roe.”

It is bad enough for women in this country to be returned to a pre-Roe world in which their reproductive rights vary depending on the state in which they reside. But the reality we’re facing, at least in Texas, is worse than that.

Prior to the Roe decision, Texas had a strict ban that allowed abortions only to save the life of pregnant women. But Texas women seeking abortions back then had services available to them.

Problem Pregnancy Information was a referral agency that facilitated abortions for 6,000 women a year — including some from San Antonio — in states such as California and New York, where abortion was legal. PPI provided a package of services: air and ground transportation, doctor, hotel, hospital and counseling.

Texas’ Medicaid system even paid for out-of-state abortions for women who qualified for Medicaid.

These days, some anti-abortion elected officials in Texas are not content with a state ban. They want to regulate and restrict the ability of women to travel to other states to receive abortion services.

Six West Texas localities, including Lubbock County, have passed ordinances prohibiting anyone from traveling through their communities to take a woman to receive an abortion, even if the travelers are going to a state where abortion is legal.

These communities are all close to the border with New Mexico, where abortion is allowed.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of reproductive choice, it should be clear that these ordinances constitute a governmental overreach. They are also likely to be found unconstitutional.

Two months ago, Kate Cox, a 31-year-old Dallas woman carrying a fetus that had full trisomy 18, a lethal fetal anomaly, was prevented by the Texas Supreme Court from receiving an abortion in Texas, despite the fact that the pregnancy posed a threat to her life and future fertility.

Cox left the state to terminate her pregnancy. Under the kind of ordinances being passed in West Texas, women in similar situations could be blocked from leaving the state.

How far does this kind of thinking go? Recreational marijuana use is illegal in this state. Does anyone think it would be a good idea for Texas cities or counties to prevent someone from traveling to New Mexico for the purpose of smoking pot?

“First and foremost, everyone has a fundamental right to freely travel to engage in conduct where that conduct is legal,” said Elizabeth Myers, a Dallas attorney with a history of representing abortion providers.

Even Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish, who supported the anti-abortion sentiment in the ordinance approved by county commissioners last October, acknowledged that it “has many legal problems.”

Parrish added, “We shouldn’t need a piece of paper that says you can’t drive on our roads to be known as a pro-life county.”

Putting aside the ideological and moral debates about reproductive rights, there are the practical implications of how these laws are meant to be implemented.

Private citizens are expected to enforce the ordinances by filing lawsuits against the travelers. It’s beyond creepy to think about how these vigilantes are expected to gather information on women traveling through their communities to determine whether they plan to have an out-of-state abortion.

The architects of these West Texas ordinances aren’t satisfied with returning us to the days before the Roe decision. They want to carry us into an environment in which self-appointed arbiters of morality are weaponized to police our travel and snoop into our private lives.

That should be abhorrent to everyone who lives in this state.

San Antonio Express-News