North Texas leaders won’t pursue plan to make their city a sanctuary for the unborn

Mineral Wells city leaders on Tuesday night took no action on a plan to make their community a sanctuary city for “the unborn.”

On a 5-2 vote Tuesday night, council members declined to pursue a proposal to make their hometown this type of sanctuary, to prevent abortion clinics and services from making their way to their city.

City leaders in Waskom, a small East Texas town, last month were the first in the state to become this type of sanctuary city.

“Why are we in (office) if we are not going to deal with the tough issues before us,” Mayor Christopher Perricone, who put the item on the agenda, asked council members.

The public vote took place after members went behind closed doors, against the wishes of the mayor, to privately discuss the issue in executive session for about half an hour. Perricone and Councilman Jerrel Tomlin cast the two opposing votes.

When they came out, the city’s legal staff recommended that the council table the item because it might not be legal or constitutional and could spark lawsuits.

Councilman Brian Shoemaker asked Perricone if he was willing to thrust the city of Mineral Wells into what could be a costly lawsuit to defend this measure. The mayor said yes. Shoemaker said he wasn’t.

“I believe it’s our duty to protect unborn lives,” Perricone said.

“It’s our duty to protect the city from being involved in a lawsuit that would be very costly,” Shoemaker countered.

Dozens of people who waited in the sweltering heat outside, because the chamber was at capacity, were then allowed in, one by one, to weigh in on the issue for more than 1 1/2 hours.

But many inside the chamber were frustrated when the majority of the council agreed to discuss the issue privately.

“They went into executive session because they want to shut the mayor up,” said Rhonda Wilkinson, a 61-year-old Mineral Wells woman. “He’s an outsider and they are trying to bury him.”

Mineral Wells, a city of around 15,000 residents, is about 50 miles west of Fort Worth.

Different opinions

One woman Tuesday night told Perricone she had been raped and had a partial miscarriage, ultimately having to remove the rest of the fetus through a medical procedure some would consider an abortion.

“I’m telling you no,” she told the mayor about the proposal to make Mineral Wells a sanctuary city. “You don’t own my body or my choices.”

Jennifer Autry, a 51-year-old nurse who lives in the nearby city of Garner, said she would make the issue simple for the council.

“Roe v Wade was decided in 1973,” she said. “It was reaffirmed in 1993. So what you are proposing is unconstitutional and we will oppose you.”

At the same time, others praised the council for bringing the issue up.

Some read Bible verses and said the city must care for unborn babies.

“Y’all are being courageous by bringing this bill forward,” said David Capps, a 35-year-old Euless man who stands outside Fort Worth abortion clinics every week asking women to not have abortions. “It’s your right, your duty, to care.”

He said he hopes Mineral Wells at some point takes a stand on this issue so that there will at least be a chance that Fort Worth might follow suit.

The council does not plan on taking up the issue again in the future.

Waskom first

Perricone said he proposed making Mineral Wells a sanctuary city after learning that Waskom last month passed such an ordinance, essentially banning abortions in their community.

It’s true that neither Waskom nor Mineral Wells have abortion clinics in their communities. And that’s just the way some want to keep it, making it hard for any clinics to move into their cities.

The Waskom measure not only made abortion a crime. It also made it a crime for anyone to help a woman receive an abortion, even assisting her with travel plans, and it prevents the sale of so-called “morning after” pills. Exceptions are made in cases of rape, incest and when a woman’s life is in danger.

Earlier Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sent a letter to Mineral Wells council members noting that such an ordinance would be unconstitutional and could open the city up to lawsuits.

“The proposal would have infringed on Texans’ access to safe, legal abortion care and would have served to further intimidate the individuals seeking that care,” Drucilla Tigner, a strategist for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement after the Mineral Wells vote. “We hope all cities will follow Mineral Wells’ example of upholding everyone’s fundamental right to abortion care and contraception.”

Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Life East Texas, helped lead the Waskom effort and spoke with Perricone as well.

He said he hopes the Texas Legislature will take this issue up. And he said earlier that he would love to see all Texas cities pass ordinances “that protect lives like the Waskom one does.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.