Another County in Texas Has Banned Abortion-Related Travel
Lubbock County near New Mexico, with a population of 300,000, is the latest county to pass a law banning anyone from traveling on county roads for an abortion.AbortionPolitics
Shortly after Roe v. Wade fell, abortion funds across Texas paused their operations out of fear of facing criminal charges or costly lawsuits for helping people get care. For a stretch of time, the Texas-based Buckle Bunnies Fund became the only fund to financially support abortion seekers in the state. Executive director Makayla Montoya Frazier told the Texas Standard earlier this year that during this period, the fund received nearly 70 assistance requests per day. The severe threats of Texas’ abortion laws had a chilling effect on advocacy groups across the state: “I was just like, fuck, that’s really scary,” Montoya Frazier said. Texas abortion advocates have long spoken out against the culture of fear that the state’s policy landscape has created to stop anyone from even helping someone get an abortion. “But that’s its intention: to be scary. They’re not going to enforce that.”
We’re now seeing that strategy infiltrate local-level politics.
On Monday, the all-male county commissioners court in Texas’ Lubbock County unanimously voted to pass a measure that makes it illegal for anyone to transport someone through the county, or pay for their travel, for the purpose of having an abortion. The vote comes after three other counties—Cochran, Mitchell, and Goliad—passed similar ordinances. (All the commissioners of these three counties are also men.) With a population of 300,000 compared to, say, Cochran’s 2,500, Lubbock is the largest jurisdiction to enact such a policy. The county also sits near the border with New Mexico, where 57% of Planned Parenthood patients come from Texas. It’s not unlikely that Texas abortion seekers traveling out-of-state for care might drive on roads that go through Lubbock.
Shortly after Lubbock passed this measure, the city council of Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday deliberated over a similar measure to vote on at a future date. Reuters notes that Amarillo’s highways are also frequently traversed by abortion seekers heading to New Mexico.
These city and county ordinances are to be enforced via civil lawsuits against abortion travelers—similar to the state’s SB 8 abortion ban, enacted in 2021, which allows people to sue anyone who helps someone have an abortion for at least $10,000. According to Reuters, anti-abortion activists reason these measures function to “bolster Texas’ existing abortion ban.” For the last two years now, Texas-based abortion funds like Buckle Bunnies have weathered ongoing legal harassment from anti-abortion activists and lawmakers attempting to invoke SB 8, which prompted most groups to pause their services at different points.
“If not even trained lawyers can parse this, how are people who are just trying to figure out what their options…supposed to get any of this? That’s what [anti-abortion lawmakers are] relying on…”
Texas bans nearly all abortions and threatens abortion providers in violation with up to life in prison among other steep penalties. Still, to a growing number of counties and jurisdictions in the state, these laws alone aren’t enough. “We’re just looking at every way to close off any loophole imaginable,” Mark Lee Dickson, a pastor and director of Texas Right to Life, told Rolling Stone in September of the Mitchell County measure he helped create. Wendy Davis, a former state senator and current senior adviser at Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, told the Tribune, “This is an effort, one by one by one, to create a statewide ban against travel to other states, literally creating a reproductive prison in the state of Texas.”
Lubbock County commissioners did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Jezebel on what steps—if any—the county will take to monitor drivers or enforce the ordinance. Some, including a Mitchell County commissioner who voted for his county’s abortion travel ordinance, question the enforceability and purpose of such measures. Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel at the reproductive justice legal group If/When/How, told Jezebel that of the numerous cases of pregnancy and abortion-related criminalization she’s worked on or reviewed, she’s “never seen prosecutors use evidence pertaining to individuals’ interstate or highway travel,” which is difficult if not impossible to collect.
Some states like Illinois have taken action to protect the data and privacy of out-of-state abortion travelers: Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker recently signed a law to prohibit state agencies from sharing or transferring license plate data with state governments in a move to protect out-of-state abortion seekers. But Diaz-Tello notes that enforcement isn’t the main threat these ordinances pose. “Measures like this are passed seemingly without any thought as to what it takes to actually enforce them,” she explained. “The exact point” of these policies is “chaos and confusion.”
“If not even trained lawyers can parse this, how are people who are just trying to figure out what their options are, how they can support their loved ones, supposed to get any of this? That’s what [anti-abortion lawmakers are] relying on, that people aren’t going to know, that they’ll be too afraid to help their loved ones get care if they’re threatened with all these consequences,” Diaz-Tello said. She pointed to If/When/How’s legal hotline to help advise people who are confused about their rights, and emphasized that as it currently stands, traveling for abortion is not illegal anywhere.
Republican lawmakers and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh once insisted that in the absence of Roe, people could still seek abortion where it was legal. But this spring, Idaho became the first state to restrict abortion-related travel by making it a crime to help minors leave the state for care. In August, Alabama’s attorney general characterized helping people travel for abortion as a “criminal conspiracy.”
Even when all other abortion funds in the states paused services post-Roe, Montoya Frazier told the San Antonio Report last year that she felt an obligation to continue to help abortion seekers despite the legal threats. “We just want people to have access to care that they see fit,” she said, “because dignity isn’t leaving the state to get health care.”