Skip to main content

Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against the city of Lubbock, Texas Monday, challenging the city’s recent ordinance declaring Lubbock a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

Lubbock voters passed the Ordinance Outlawing Abortion Within the City of Lubbock, Declaring Lubbock a Sanctuary City for the Unborn on May 1, with 62-percent of voters (about 34,260) supporting the measure. The ordinance, which is set to go into effect June 1, appeared on the ballot only after being rejected by the city council.

Planned Parenthood announced in 2020 that it would open a health center in Lubbock to meet the medical needs of women in the underserved and low-income area. Among many other healthcare services Planned Parenthood offers at the center, it provides abortion — making the center the only licensed abortion provider in 300 miles.

One state legislator, Charles Perry, initiated a petition for Lubbock to adopt a proposed “sanctuary city” ordinance; the city then hired a private law firm to provide its opinion as to the legality of Perry’s proposal. The firm found that the proposal would violate the constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade, and would be preempted by both the Texas Penal Code and the Texas wrongful death statute.

The Texas Penal Code already prohibits abortions in certain circumstances and the Texas wrongful death statute already lays out tort liability for causing death. Lubbock’s ordinance would create additional civil and criminal liability in a manner that would conflict with state law; because state law is a higher authority than a city ordinance, the state law would preempt Lubbock’s abortion ban.

Given the recommendation against the ordinance, the city council then unanimously rejected it in November.

Perry’s “initiating committee” then followed steps to have the matter put on the ballot for a referendum vote. Now that the measure has passed and is slated to go into effect, Planned Parenthood has raised a legal challenge.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, attacks the Lubbock ban from several distinct angles. It argues that any ban on abortion is unconstitutional violation of the right to abortion as set forth in Roe v. Wade; it also argues that the ordinance improperly creates civil and criminal liability. The complaint alleges the ban, “imposes substantial liability on anyone who procures, performs, aids, or abets an abortion in Lubbock,” and that “it invites any Texas citizen to obtain an injunction against anyone who plans to procure, perform, aid, or abet an abortion.” Moreover, the ban “permits these lawsuits at any time, and bars providers from citing the patient’s consent as a defense.”

Planned Parenthood also argues that the ordinance violates Texas law in two ways. First, Lubbock has no authority to create civil liability between private parties. Second, it conflicts with (and is therefore preempted by) the Texas Penal Code and Texas wrongful death statute.

Planned Parenthood asks that the court declare the ordinance a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and enjoin its enforcement.

Ken Lambrecht, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas provided the following statement via email:

“Lubbock’s controversial new ordinance violates our patients’ constitutional right to access abortion and we are expecting the court to stop this unlawful ordinance. Planned Parenthood is proud to provide high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care to hundreds of patients in Lubbock since opening our health center last year. This year, those services expanded to include abortion services. Patients are counting on our health center in Lubbock, and we are committed to expanding access to affordable health care services — especially during the pandemic. Today, we are standing up for the rights of our Lubbock patients to make their own medical decisions.”

Attorneys for the City of Lubbock did not immediately respond to requests for comment.