No choice: Facing protest, Edinburg councilmen decline to vote on anti-abortion measure

Protesters pack Edinburg City Hall during the Edinburg City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — With no action taken from the city council for or against it, a proposed ordinance to outlaw abortion within Edinburg failed to pass during a lengthy and rowdy city council meeting Tuesday evening.

More than 60 individuals, over the span of more approximately three hours, spoke during the public comment section of the Edinburg City Council meeting on the proposed abortion ban.

While a handful of individuals spoke in favor of the ordinance, the overwhelming majority of speakers, about 80%, were against the ordinance. They argued the ordinance would be unconstitutional, urged the council to focus on issues such as drainage, and asked the council to not make decisions based on their religious beliefs.

Local attorney, Javier Peña, while not speaking for or against abortion called the situation a “publicity stunt” and said the council shouldn’t be taking on national issues.

“You have no legal authority to pass any opinion, pass any ordinance, on abortion,” Peña said.

The ordinance, as proposed, would have amended the city’s code of ordinances to make it unlawful to obtain an abortion, perform an abortion, or for someone to knowingly help someone else get an abortion within the city.

Such actions would include:

  • providing transportation to or from an abortion provider
  • giving instructions over the phone, internet or other communication regarding abortion
  • providing money with the knowledge it will be used for an abortion
  • providing or arranging for insurance coverage for an abortion
  • providing “abortion doula” services
  • coercing or pressuring a pregnant mother to have an abortion against their will
Pro-lifers during the Edinburg City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com)

The ordinance also would have made it illegal to possess or distribute abortion-inducing drugs within the city.

Those in favor of the ordinance pointed to similar ones passed in other cities throughout the state, including in the city of Lubbock.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Lubbock to stop the abortion ban from taking effect, but a federal judge dismissed the suit, stating that the organizations did not have standing to sue.

After public comment, Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina said that after he and the other council members had expressed support for an abortion ban during a previous meeting, they had since learned that the Lubbock ordinance was not passed by the council but instead was approved by the voters.

City Attorney Omar Ochoa reiterated that the Lubbock city council initially rejected the ordinance but residents placed the abortion ban on the ballot for a citywide election. It was there where it achieved approval.

Jacob Becho of McAllen during the Edinburg City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Ochoa, however, said he would be unable to offer further legal guidance during the meeting, in front of the public, unless the council waived their attorney-client privilege.

City Councilman David White was in favor of discussing the legalities before the public, stating that he had requested that the ordinance be placed on the agenda for the purpose of hearing from the public on the issue.

Molina, however, opposed discussing the legal issues publicly.

When Molina called for a motion on the ordinance, none of the council members offered one, effectively killing the item after hours of debate.