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City, County Governments Curb Abortions Even If State Allows Them

Some city and county governments in states that allow abortion are exploring ways to restrict it within their communities. The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June returned the issue to the states. A growing number of municipalities aim to create their own abortion regulations, setting the stage for legal battles or conflicts with state officials. The city-level efforts add to a complex patchwork of abortion access spilling across state borders. They also raise questions of what role, if any, cities play in determining abortion laws, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The reason we will see more and more of these is because the endgame is to stop abortion,” said Rachel Rebouché, dean of Temple University’s law school. The municipal maneuvering comes as more states ban or narrowly restrict abortion, prompting some clinics to move across state lines and pregnant women and girls to travel for abortions. Some local officials are responding to an increase in patients coming into their states from places with bans like Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Hobbs, N.M., passed an ordinance in November that attempts to restrict abortion clinics from operating there. The ordinance cites an old federal obscenity law that prohibits the mailing of medication or supplies used to perform an abortion. City council members in Pueblo, Co., tabled a similar measure this month, questioning the role cities played in regulating abortion. City council members in Bristol, Va., a Virginia town that shares a border with Bristol, Tn., in October voted to move forward a zoning ordinance that would prohibit future abortion clinics from operating in the city. Neighboring Washington County advanced a similar ordinance last week. Some cities in states with abortion bans have tried to establish resources and policies supporting abortion access. The city council in Austin, Tx. approved a resolution in July that recommends law enforcement make the criminal enforcement of abortion laws its lowest priority. St. Louis leaders in July approved an ordinance that creates a fund to help pay for logistics for those needing to travel across state lines for an abortion. Most abortions are now illegal in Missouri. The state attorney general has sued the city. Recent antiabortion ordinances on the city-by-city level can be traced back to 2019. Antiabortion activist Mark Lee Dickson led an effort for Texas towns to pass ordinances declaring themselves "sanctuary cities for the unborn." He is taking a similar approach to other states, including New Mexico and Nebraska, tailoring the language of the ordinances to fit each city and offering pro bono legal services should they face lawsuits. Dickson helped bring the idea to Hobbs leaders after he learned Whole Woman’s Health, previously a prominent Texas abortion provider, was considering the New Mexico city as an option for a new location. The all-male Hobbs City Commission passed the ordinance in November. Dickson describes it as a “de facto ban” on abortion; Hobbs leaders say it would still be possible for clinics to operate there should they get their equipment and pharmaceuticals within the state. Ellie Rushforth of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said the ordinance is unconstitutional and “an impermissible exercise of municipal and county authority.”

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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