Take a deep cleansing breath. Have a few sips of your favorite relaxing beverage. Settle into a nice, comfy chair. Then, when you’re feeling calm and collected and your blood pressure is under control and you think you can handle the rage, read this.
No one could remember the last time so many people packed into City Hall.
As the meeting began on a late August evening, residents spilled out into the hallway, the brim of one cowboy hat kissing the next, each person jostling for a look at the five city council members who would decide whether to make Llano the third city in Texas to outlaw what some antiabortion activists call “abortion trafficking.”
For well over an hour, the people of Llano — a town of about 3,400 deep in Texas Hill Country — approached the podium to speak out against abortion. While the procedure was now illegal across Texas, people were still driving women on Llano roads to reach abortion clinics in other states, the residents had been told. They said their city had a responsibility to “fight the murders.”
The cheers after each speech grew louder as the crowd readied for the vote. Then one woman on the council spoke up.
“I feel like there’s a lot more to discuss about this,” said Laura Almond, a staunch conservative who owns a consignment shop in the middle of town. “I have a ton of questions.”
More than a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, many conservatives have grown frustrated by the number of people able to circumvent antiabortion laws — with some advocates grasping for even stricter measures they hope will fully eradicate abortion nationwide.
That frustration is driving a new strategy in heavily conservative cities and counties across Texas. Designed by the architects of the state’s “heartbeat” ban that took effect months before Roe fell, ordinances like the one proposed in Llano — where some 80 percent of voters in the county backed President Donald Trump in 2020 — make it illegal to transport anyone to get an abortion on roads within the city or county limits. The laws allow any private citizen to sue a person or organization they suspect of violating the ordinance.
Antiabortion advocates behind the measure are targeting regions along interstates and in areas with airports, with the goal of blocking off the main arteries out of Texas and keeping pregnant women hemmed within the confines of their antiabortion state. These provisions have already passed in two counties and two cities, creating legal risk for those traveling on major highways including Interstate 20 and Route 84, which head toward New Mexico, where abortion remains legal and new clinics have opened to accommodate Texas women. Several more jurisdictions are expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks.
“This really is building a wall to stop abortion trafficking,” said Mark Lee Dickson, the antiabortion activist behind the effort.
By Dickson’s definition, “abortion trafficking” is the act of helping any pregnant woman cross state lines to end her pregnancy, lending her a ride, funding, or another form of support. While the term “trafficking” typically refers to people who are forced, tricked or coerced, Dickson’s definition applies to all people seeking abortions — because, he argues, “the unborn child is always taken against their will.”
The law — which has the public backing of 20 Texas state legislators — is designed to go after abortion funds, organizations that give financial assistance to people seeking abortions, as well as individuals. For example, Dickson said, a husband who doesn’t want his wife to get an abortion could threaten to sue the friend who offers to drive her. Under the ordinance, the woman seeking the abortion would be exempt from any punishment.
Abortion rights advocates say the ordinance effort is merely a ploy to scare people out of seeking the procedure. To date, no one has been sued under the existing “abortion trafficking” laws.
“The purpose of these laws is not to meaningfully enforce them,” said Neesha Davé, executive director of the Lilith Fund, an abortion fund based in Texas. “It’s the fear that’s the point. It’s the confusion that’s the point.”
While these restrictions appear to violate the U.S. Constitution — which protects a person’s right to travel — they are extremely difficult to challenge in court, said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who focuses on abortion. Because the laws can be enforced by any private citizen, abortion rights groups have no clear government official to sue in a case seeking to block the law.
“Mitchell and Dickson are not necessarily conceding that what they’re doing is unconstitutional, but they’re making it very hard for anyone to do anything about it,” Ziegler said.
“Mitchell” is Jonathan Mitchell, the lawyer behind most of the right wing evil that’s not coming directly from Ken Paxton these days. As the story notes, one reason why Llano was picked for this (other than its already-known wingnut proclivities) is that it’s on the way from San Antonio and Austin (and Houston, via Austin) to the places in New Mexico where the abortion clinics are. How any of this would work in practice is far from clear – are they going to set up roadside “pregnant woman in the passenger’s seat” checks? – but as Neesha Davé notes, that’s not the point. The point is to instill fear and by doing so make women think there’s no help for them. Killing hope goes a long way.
The good news for now is that there’s skepticism in the towns, including among their elected officials who are otherwise all on board for the state abortion ban. This finally is a bridge too far, and they’re not biting. But that’s for now, and that’s before any organized effort to oust them in favor of extremist candidates who will vote in favor. The legal landscape is murky at best as well – the SCOTUS original sin of allowing the vigilante bounty hunter law into effect has a very long tail. All this is on the very long list of things we’re fighting against, whether we realize it or not. Read up and know what the terrain looks like.