Austin, TX, 8 hours ago — San Angelo residents will vote on a citywide abortion ban in November, barring improbable city council passage.
On Tuesday, the city council accepted a certified petition in support of an ordinance outlawing abortion. Over the protests of the residents that led the petition effort, the council voted to have a public hearing on March 1, a decision that effectively set the proposal on the ballot for November instead of May.
According to the San Angelo city charter, citizens can submit a proposed ordinance to the council if they collect petition signatures of at least 25 percent of the number voting at the last regular mayoral election. Led by local pastor Ryan Buck, a committee of citizens began this petition process in November, aiming for a minimum of 1,512 signatures.
After checking out and accepting the petition, the city council then sets a time for a public hearing — the controversial decision at the center of Tuesday’s meeting. At the hearing, according to the city clerk’s office, the council will decide to pass or reject the ordinance. If rejected, the ordinance goes before the voters in a citywide election.
The city clerk recommended setting the public hearing for March 1, and Mayor Brenda Gunter asked the council if there were any objections to a March 1 date. Seeing no objections, one councilor motioned, another seconded, and the decision was nearly made — until the clerk clarified that procedure required public comment and then a vote.
Buck was the first citizen to speak during public comment at Tuesday’s city council meeting, where he urged the councilors to schedule a public hearing soon enough to put the proposal on the May ballot.
“I believe there’s 18 days that these steps could be taken in order to get it on the May ballot. Our hope is that we would not go forward with a March deadline for the public hearing, that we could move that up so that we could make the May ballot,” Buck said.
“If we go to March 1st, it’ll be November. So we are just here to respectfully ask that if it’s possible, within the rules, and you know we just heard our city clerk say that there’s no really clear cut deadline in the city charter how to do this, just an appropriate time to get it before the community, I ask you to do it. Schedule this public hearing for the 15th. Let’s get this in the newspaper next week. There’s no reason we can’t move forward.”
Mark Lee Dickson, head of pro-life group Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative, said the council may have broken the law by trying to set a date without public comment and a full vote.
“My heart is a little heavy this morning because according to the laws of the State of Texas, before you vote on something that’s on an agenda, you have to hear public comment. And therefore according to the laws of the State of Texas, the vote you just took to affirm that March 1st date is not in agreement with state law and therefore invalid,” Dickson said.
“So I request that you guys hear from the public before you make a decision on this matter… If this is put on the November ballot, you’re looking at a lot more time of this being at the forefront, and the sooner this is addressed, the easier people can go along with other things that need to be addressed in San Angelo.”
Another one of the San Angelo citizens that led the petition effort claimed that pushing the vote to November would be more costly than May.
“We have worked so hard. These people, many people in San Angelo, have worked so hard in getting these signatures,” said Stephanie Socha, pro-life coordinator for the deanery of San Angelo and member of the initiating committee.
“It’s my understanding that if this goes to the November ballot, it will actually cost San Angelo almost $20,000 more. I think it will be a lot more beneficial for San Angelo and for the citizens if you can go ahead and do this in May.”
No public commenters spoke in favor of setting the public hearing for March 1.
The council voted 4 to 1 to set the public hearing for March 1, with Councilwoman Lucy Gonzales voting no and Councilman Tom Thompson absent.
Although the next step in the process is for the council to accept or reject the proposal, Gunter strongly implied that the decision had already been made and that the ordinance would go to the voters.
“It will be on the November ballot,” Gunter said.
The city will publish the full text of the proposed ordinance in English and Spanish in the newspaper.
The proposed ordinance forbids performing or aiding abortions in San Angelo, urges the district attorney of Tom Green County to prosecute anybody that aids or abets abortions, and makes abortifacient drugs contraband in city limits.
However, government officials cannot punish violators “unless and until” the U.S. Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade, a court declares that the city’s penalty would not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions, or a court rules that the violator lacks third-party standing to assert the rights of women seeking abortions in court. The ordinance’s more immediate method of enforcement is to create a private right of action, authorizing private citizens to sue anybody besides the mother herself that performs or aids an abortion in San Angelo.