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Published on May 29, 2024
Amarillo Agonizes, City Council Stalls Ban on Abortion Travel AidSource: Google Street View

The debate over abortion rights continues to stir in Amarillo, Texas, where the City Council has decided to take a step back on a petition imposing a ban on abortion travel. The petition, backed by anti-abortion activists, is hanging in limbo as council members choose neither to nod it through nor to outright deny it, as reported by the Texas Tribune. The proposed ordinance, which saw the light of public scrutiny last October, is particularly contentious. It would slap a legal ban on assisting anyone who seeks an abortion outside state lines.

With less than a month to go to reach a consensus, Amarillo officials are feeling the heat, surrounded by the encroaching deadlines and the expectations of their constituents. They're tasked with navigating a path through the divisive issue that could lead Amarillo down a similar road as other conservative corners of the state, which adopted similar bans with little fuss. Though the City Council mulled over revisions that would exclude a travel ban, and considered mirroring Senate Bill 8, Mayor Cole Stanley expressed concerns regarding the ordinance's enforceability, as the Texas Tribune reports.

Amarillo is a significant hub in the Texas Panhandle, housing over 203,000 residents and acting as a vital node connecting multiple states through Interstates 40 and 27. The proposed travel restrictions have ruffled feathers, drawing criticism for their potential to disrupt not only the lives of individuals seeking medical services but also interstate commerce. Council member Don Tipps suggested that penalties should not apply to parents and grandparents who help their loved ones, a statement which the petition’s committee flatly refused. Local residents Jana May, John Barrett, and Steve Austin, who are part of the committee, discussed potential amendments with the council but stood firm on key points of the petition.

The suggested ordinance does not penalize the women traveling for abortions. Instead, it sets its sights on anyone who aids and abets the process, exposing them to private lawsuits from fellow citizens—a mechanism seen as stirring up a "vigilante mentality," a concern voiced by retired minister Robin Gantz in her interview with the Texas Tribune. Gantz also lamented the potential impact on basic human decency, stating, "This prevents someone from offering basic human kindness, comfort, and aid at a terrible time." Nevertheless, the petition's proponents, like May, remain undeterred, urging the council to consider the unborn, emphasizing that discussions often overlook the child in favor of the woman's choice.

The legal standoff in Amarillo reflects a fragmented tapestry of local governance wrestling with wider judicial challenges to abortion rights post-Roe v. Wade. Legal petitions have been filed by Jonathan Mitchell, the architect behind the 2021 heartbeat bill, targeting women suspected of traveling for abortions. Meanwhile, the City Council has locked in a public hearing on June 11 to deliberate further on the matter as reported by the Texas Tribune.