abortion ordinance (copy)

Representatives from Right to Life East Texas and East Texas Right to Life visited the Gary City Council in January to urge members to approve an ordinance outlawing abortion within the city.

The ACLU has withdrawn its lawsuit against Gary and six other cities in Texas that have enacted ordinances outlawing abortion within city limits.

The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of the Lilith Fund and the Texas Equal Access Fund saying the ordinances’ language calling abortion access advocacy groups “criminal entities” violated those organizations’ free speech rights.

The lawsuit targeted abortion ban ordinances passed in Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, Rusk, Gary and Wells.

The ACLU’s decision to withdraw its lawsuit Tuesday comes after those cities amended their ordinances to take out that section and add a clause stating “No provision of Section C may be construed to prohibit any conduct protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as made applicable to the States through the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

In changing its abortion ordinance in March, Gary said it was to unify their ordinance with the other cities’ to bolster it against the lawsuit. The amended ordinance also removed the clause prohibiting the sale and distribution of emergency contraception within the City of Gary.

Gary and the other cities’ amended ordinances still outlaws abortions of any type within city limits, with no exceptions — but abortion bans are unenforceable under current law because Roe v. Wade has not been overturned.

Gary Mayor Mark Thornton said Wednesday he did not have a comment on the lawsuit’s end. Both the ACLU and Right to Life of East Texas claimed victory Tuesday.

The ACLU of Texas said it was now “absolutely clear that our clients, abortion providers & advocates have the constitutional right to perform their work in these communities” in a message on Facebook.

“But local community members are the real winners; they won’t have to fear criminal prosecution for advocating for the right to abortion,” the ACLU said. “Let’s be clear: These ordinances have never changed what is already fundamentally true, that abortion is legal not only in Texas but nationwide. Anti-abortion extremists pushed these unenforceable ordinances to mislead Texans about their rights and stigmatize abortion care.”

Mark Lee Dickson, Director of Right to Life of East Texas, called it a “total and complete victory” for the cities who have passed abortion ordinances.

“We said from the outset that there is no legal basis to challenge these ordinances, and they have been vetted by expert legal counsel,” Dickson said. “We’re pleased that the ACLU realized this and decided to withdraw its lawsuit.”

In the long run, Dickson expects that the lawsuit will draw more attention to his cause. Dickson encourages cities who have considered the ordinance in the past and have voted it down over fear of a lawsuit to revisit the ordinance and outlaw abortion within their city limits.

“This lawsuit was nothing but a publicity stunt to deter other cities from creating sanctuaries for the unborn,” Dickson said. “But it will end up having the opposite effect. Now even the ACLU acknowledges that there is no basis for challenging these ordinances, and this will embolden other cities and towns to join the sanctuary city for the unborn movement.”

Other cities in Texas that have outlawed abortion but were not named in the ACLU’s lawsuit include the cities of Gilmer, Westbrook, Colorado City, and Big Spring. The city of Whiteface also voted to outlaw abortion after the ACLU lawsuit was filed.

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Staff reporter Stella Wieser and Tyler Morning Telegraph reporter Ben Fenton contributed to this story.