In Llano, Texas, a recent City Hall meeting drew a large crowd as residents gathered to discuss a proposed ordinance aimed at curbing what some antiabortion activists refer to as “abortion trafficking.” The ordinance, which is being considered in several jurisdictions, seeks to prohibit the use of local roads to transport individuals out of state for an abortion.
Llano, a town in Texas Hill Country with a population of approximately 3,400, found itself at the center of a contentious debate, as reported by The Washington Post. Despite the recent statewide ban on abortion in Texas, some residents claimed that individuals were still using Llano’s roads to access abortion clinics in neighboring states. They argued that the city had a moral duty to combat what they referred to as “murders.”
During the meeting, residents passionately voiced their opinions against abortion, and the atmosphere grew increasingly charged as the vote approached. However, one council member, Laura Almond, a conservative who owns a consignment shop in town, expressed reservations about the proposed ordinance’s language and potential far-reaching implications. She recommended tabling the ordinance for further discussion.
The ordinance in question is part of a broader strategy adopted by antiabortion advocates in conservative regions of Texas. It was designed by the same architects behind the state’s “heartbeat” ban, which was implemented before Roe v. Wade was overturned. These ordinances aim to make it illegal to transport anyone for an abortion on local roads within city or county limits, with the added provision that private citizens can sue those suspected of violating the ordinance.
Antiabortion activists behind these measures are targeting regions along highways and near airports, with the goal of impeding access to abortion services outside the state. Several cities and counties have already passed such ordinances, creating legal risks for individuals traveling on major highways leading to states where abortion remains legal.
Conservative lawmakers had begun exploring ways to restrict interstate abortion travel even before the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned. Various antiabortion groups discussed legislation that would allow private citizens to sue anyone assisting a resident in obtaining an abortion outside the state. Some states, like Idaho, even passed laws imposing criminal penalties on those helping minors travel out of state for abortions without parental consent.
However, even in Texas’ most conservative areas, resistance has emerged against these efforts to restrict abortion travel. Some local officials, despite their strong support for strict abortion laws in Texas, are concerned that these measures go too far and could harm their communities. This pushback reflects a new point of contention among antiabortion advocates regarding how aggressively to restrict abortion after the Roe decision, with practical concerns outweighing political considerations in small-town Texas.
The proposed ordinance in Llano sought to outlaw “abortion trafficking,” which antiabortion activist Mark Lee Dickson defined as helping pregnant women cross state lines to obtain abortions, including providing transportation, funding, or other support. Dickson argued that this definition applied to all pregnant individuals seeking abortions, as he believed “the unborn child is always taken against their will.”
The ordinance aimed to target abortion funds, organizations offering financial assistance for abortions, as well as individuals, such as spouses who disagreed with their partners seeking abortions. Notably, the woman seeking the abortion would be exempt from any punishment under the ordinance.
Critics, including abortion rights advocates, argued that the ordinance was primarily a tactic to deter individuals from seeking abortions through fear and confusion. As of the time of the report, no one had been sued under similar “abortion trafficking” laws.
While these restrictions potentially raise constitutional concerns about the right to travel, they are difficult to challenge in court since any private citizen can enforce them. This makes it difficult for abortion rights groups to identify a government official to sue in a legal challenge.
The debate in Llano exemplified the tension surrounding this issue, as council members grappled with the potential consequences of the proposed ordinance. In the end, the Llano City Council voted to table the ordinance, with four out of five members supporting the decision.
The ordinance’s tabling signaled that the debate over the restrictions on abortion travel in Texas was far from over, as antiabortion activists continued to push for such measures in conservative communities throughout the state.