City governments should be utilized in a grassroots effort to fight abortion rights still protected federally, Southern Baptist pastor Mark Dickson told Baptist Press (BP).
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The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, named in an unenforceable ordinance declaring abortion illegal in Waskom, Texas, is sponsoring interstate billboards near Waskom describing abortion as freedom.
“For so long, people have been going to the state capital and nation’s capital and focusing the efforts there,” Dickson said July 9. “The reality is that these are issues that affect our cities, our local communities and we’ve really all along needed to take things into our own hands.
“Abortion clinics come into our cities. Abortifacients are on the shelves of our stores,” said Dickson, senior pastor of SovereignLOVE Church in Longview, Texas, and director of Right to Life of East Texas. “We’ve got to tackle this on a grassroots level.”
Dickson has gained media attention since his initiative in June that led the Waskom, Texas, city council to declare itself a sanctuary city for unborn children. Waskom adopted an ordinance outlawing abortion within the city of 2,200 people and declared abortion providers and funders to be “criminal organizations.” The document expressly withholds enforcement “unless and until the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade … and Planned Parenthood v. Casey … and permits states and municipalities to once again enforce abortion prohibitions.”
Other cities interested in Waskom’s ordinance are situated across the U.S., said Dickson, whose group was founded in 1976 and is not affiliated with the statewide Texas Right to Life.
“There’s lots of discussions happening and you’d better believe we’re going to go from city to city and we’re going to do everything we can to help other cities outlaw abortion in their city,” Dickson said. “It has been quite overwhelming and so we’re working on getting a system in place where we can effectively help all those cities to give them the tools necessary to do this in their neck of the woods.”
He would not name specific cities.
“The last thing I want to do is give Planned Parenthood, NARAL (NARAL Pro-Choice America) and other pro-choice groups a heads up of where we’re going next,” he said, “just because it puts those cities at risk of some intense intimidation prior to the vote.”
Despite the ordinance’s lack of enforcement, Waskom passed the rule to discourage abortion providers from operating within the community, Waskom Mayor Jesse Moore said. The city has no national agenda, he said.
“We passed this ordinance with one thing in mind, to keep abortion clinics out of Waskom, that was it,” Moore told BP. “And what the other cities choose to do, that’s strictly up to them.”
The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, named in the ordinance as an abortion supporter, responded with two billboards that read “Abortion is Freedom,” displayed along Interstate 20 near Waskom.
Moore is not aware of an abortion provider ever offering its services within Waskom. The nearest abortion provider is Hope Medical Group for Women, about 20 miles away in Shreveport, La. Texas has 23 abortion providers, according to abortion tracking sites.
Dickson, who preaches the gospel on the sidewalk outside the Shreveport clinic, said he approached Waskom’s mayor after realizing there was nothing in place to discourage Hope Medical Group from moving to Waskom.
The clinic has never considered such a relocation, clinic administrator Kathleen Pittman told BP Tuesday.
“So there’s never been any intention of Hope Medical Group planning a facility across the Texas border, to my knowledge,” Pittman said. “Planned Parenthood has not had any plans to establish a facility there (in Waskom).”
Pittman questions the meaning of the sanctuary city designation.
“I would be interested, since they have declared themselves a sanctuary city,” she told BP, “if they are offering a place to stay and medical care for pregnant immigrants.”
Dickson is dismayed that Texas has not passed legislation spreading among the 50 states to limit abortion to mothers whose fetuses have not grown enough to register a heartbeat.
“We did not get any sweeping pro-life legislation accomplished,” Dickson said. “Everything was being shot down here in Texas.”
While Texas has not passed fetal heartbeat legislation, the legislature passed a bill in 2019 banning the state and local governments from contracting with abortion providers for abortions and other services. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill in June.
Dickson’s congregation, about 45 miles west of Waskom, offers spiritual and practical encouragement to potential Hope clinic customers. Housing, food, clothing, diapers, transportation and job placement assistance are among services offered, Dickson told BP.
“I offer true hope, because we all know at an abortion clinic, especially an abortion clinic named Hope Medical Group for Women, they don’t offer hope there,” he said. “I tell them that abortion is not God’s will for their life, that God has a plan and purpose for them and their child, that they can be a great mother to that child. They’ve just got to trust in the Lord.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)