Texas ACLU Readies for Abortion Battle in Cities and Towns

The struggle starts at the local level

Hundreds gather at the Texas Capitol on April 14, 2023 to protest the restriction of mifepristone and abortion access (Photo by John Anderson)

There aren’t as many men behind Texas’ anti-abortion policies as you might expect. Attorney Jonathan Mitchell and advocate Mark Lee Dickson have, respectively, written and shopped around much of the most restrictive policy.

Mitchell was an author of SB 8, which included the vigilante framework that now allows any Texan to sue any other Texan they suspect of assisting in an abortion. Mitchell and Dickson have also written and advanced local ordinances aimed at preventing out-of-state travel for abortions.

“This is one organizer [Dickson] traveling the state with bad policy. It’s not even well written,” said Blair Wallace, an ACLU of Texas policy and advocacy strategist who focuses on reproductive rights. “Our opposition is using local city councils and things like this to test policy. The truth of it is that this city and county work is not complicated, it’s just extremely inaccessible.”

The ACLU of Texas, along with several reproductive rights and justice organizations, is looking to combat this inaccessibility, by training up and connecting pro-abortion advocates who can write policy, organize communities, and advocate for good law, from the local to state level. Today, they are launching the Texas Abortion Advocacy Network (TAAN).

People joining the network will first go through the 10-week TAAN Academy, a series of online courses that will teach advocacy skills. The first class starts today. (Those interested who miss classes can jump in at any time.) In early spring, Wallace says TAAN will hold its first conference, and she expects some local-level policy will emerge from it.

“My whole goal is to demystify policy work as this big scary thing,” Wallace says. “Ideally, we’d have a bank of policies we can shop to different city councils. And that’s where the network comes in. I could write some policy we could shop around, but I think it would be better if someone from Lubbock wrote policy for Lubbock because I’m not going to know what Lubbock needs like they do.”

One barrier to pro-abortion advocacy, though, is rampant misinformation about what is and isn’t legal in Texas. For example, Texas abortion bans only block providing or assisting in an abortion, not having one. And while the word “assist” is vague, our right to free speech is still at play, so organizers need not fear prison time. Likewise, many people don’t realize that newly enacted travel bans are unenforceable, said Heather Allison of Fund Texas Choice, one of the nonprofits partnering with the ACLU on TAAN.

Wallace calls anti-abortion policy “intentionally vague. They want people to be confused, they want to isolate, but pregnant people cannot be prosecuted for an abortion, and as the ACLU person I can assure you, we have a first amendment right to sharing information. … So it’s about taking the taboo out of it, and saying, no, this is normal.”

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abortion, Jonathan Mitchell, Mark Lee Dickson, ACLU, ACLU of Texas

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