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With no opposition in the room, a rural Texas county makes traveling for an abortion on its roads illegal

By Jayme Lozano Carver, The Texas Tribune

With no opposition in the room, a rural Texas county makes traveling for an abortion on its roads illegal” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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MORTON — Commissioners in this rural Texas county that borders New Mexico on Thursday gave their unanimous blessing to a legally dubious policy that effectively outlaws travel on its local roads to seek an abortion.

The five-member panel in Cochran County, which sits about an hour west of Lubbock, agreed with Mark Lee Dickson, founder of the “sanctuary cities” initiative, who said the ordinance was needed to finish the work started in the state’s near-total ban, often referred to as Senate Bill 8.

“This ordinance would close some of the loopholes that exist in this fight,” Dickson said. “It’s saying the roads, and the airport, could not be used for abortion trafficking into New Mexico.”

County Commissioner Eric Silhan introduced the ordinance to the county’s governing body, saying it’s a way to stand for “the people who can’t speak for themselves.”

There were more than a dozen people in the the county commissioners chambers, all appearing to be in support of the ordinance. Judy Deavours, the former mayor of neighboring Whiteface, spoke in favor of it. Whiteface was one of the first towns in the High Plains to pass the so-called sanctuary city ordinance in 2020, while Deavours was in office.

“We have to finish what we started,” Deavours said. “This is just wrapping it up, and if you vote for this, we’ll have what we need.”

[A Texas county that borders New Mexico is the latest to consider an abortion travel ban]

The new travel ordinance in Cochran imposes penalties on people using the county’s roads to knowingly transport someone seeking an abortion, but specifies that under no circumstances should the mother in the scenario be subject to prosecution or penalty. Similar to the sanctuary city ordinance, the act would be enforced through private civil lawsuits.

Cochran County joins a small group of other rural Texas counties that have passed these ordinances. It’s the first that borders a state where abortion is legal. Abortion-rights supporters and legal scholars have said the policies are unenforceable and unconstitutional.

“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,” Wendy Davis, a former state senator who is now a senior adviser at Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said on Wednesday.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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