An East Texas native who is behind a movement encouraging cities to ban abortions within their limits says he and supporters have a list of 162 municipalities to which he is taking his ordinance.
The Rev. Mark Lee Dickson won’t reveal where those cities are, other than that nearly all of those are in Texas. He said either he contacted the cities or they reached out to him through the Facebook page, sanctuarycitiesfortheunborn.com.
He said the largest municipality on his list has a population of 400,000. These are the places Dickson and Right to Life of East Texas believe a small-ball approach to the abortion debate is an overlooked weapon in their decades-long battle.
“Abortion should not be just something brought to the national Capitol and state Capitol,” Dickson said Friday. “Abortion is something that should be fought on the local level.”
Dickson, 33, the pastor of Sovereign Love Church in Longview, traces his activism to involvement with the anti-sanctuary cities movement that opposes city ordinances that clash with federal immigration policy.
He traces his local-first strategy to his grandfather, the late Glenn Canfield, who was at the forefront of the local GOP during the 1980s and ‘90s when Gregg County went from traditionally blue to deep red.
The former Gregg County Republican Party chairman died in 2006, but Dickson said his grandfather’s writings emphasize the impact of local victories.
It was Dickson who reached out to Waskom Mayor Jesse Moore, who leads the Harrison County town of 2,189 people that’s next to the Louisiana state line. It’s also near Shreveport’s Hope Medical Group for Women, which Dickson said serves a 200-mile radius that more than takes in Waskom.
Waskom does not have an abortion clinic, but Dickson said he learned a Houston man had “pledged land” in the town to the founder of the Shreveport abortion provider in the early ‘90s.
“I reached out to (Moore) and shared my concerns that Waskom was vulnerable,” Dickson said, noting the Waskom City Council’s approval of a resolution and a city ordinance June 11 banning abortions.
The North Central Texas city of Mineral Wells was next, and Dickson said he drove overnight to Mayor Christopher Perricone’s home to describe the ordinance over breakfast in his house.
“His wife made eggs, and we talked for several hours about this whole thing,” Dickson said. “And I introduced him to the lawyer who is behind this thing.”
Dickson would not say on the record who that lawyer is, but he said the man is a former solicitor general for the state of Texas who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and was a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
The Mineral Wells City Council rejected the measure Tuesday on a 5-2 vote, with all three women on the council among those who opposed it.
“We could see Mineral Wells come back,” Dickson said, adding he is addressing an East Texas city council Tuesday.
Like the concealment of the high-powered attorney helping the city bans, Dickson would not reveal which cities and towns his group is targeting. He describes the group itself as “religious leaders who represent various churches in several counties.”
He also declined to name the churches.
Dickson said the secrecy surrounding the abortion ban movement is justified by the risk of violence he said the movement’s members and city leaders in the targeted cities face.
“I do want to be transparent,” he said. “But the lawyer has asked specifically that I not share his name with the public. ... You had every single council member (in Mineral Wells) that took pressure from the (American Civil Liberties Union).”
The ACLU sent a letter to Mineral Wells council members warning the proposal is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported last week.
And billboards recently went up outside Waskom declaring, “Abortion is Freedom.”
“These are the same people that I know who would say abortion is normal,” Dickson said.
He said people from as far as Wisconsin attended last week’s Mineral Wells City Council meeting.
“It’s very likely these city council members got death threats,” he said. “A lot of things could happen as this picks up. This is not going to die down; it’s just beginning.
“When this happened in Waskom, the mayor, those city council members, became a meme. People are making fun of the guys in Waskom; people are making fun of the mayor of Mineral Wells.”
Dickson said a resolution is not decisive enough, so he is asking cities to enact his ban as an ordinance.
“The ordinance has immediate implications,” Dickson said, “because it makes abortion illegal in Waskom immediately.”
The ordinance achieves two goals: it creates a public enforcement tool that Dickson said “is something that goes in effect only after Roe vs. Wade is overturned,” and it has penalties against the performing doctor and others, which Dickson said would be retroactive.
“If the pharmacist has Plan B (the morning after pill) on his shelf, this is $2,000 he can be charged, once Roe vs. Wade is overturned.”
The Associated Press also reported last week that the Waskom ordinance criminalizes anyone helping others obtain an abortion, including sharing information over the phone or internet, helping pay for the procedure or giving someone a ride to an abortion appointment. It also criminalizes self-induced abortion.
Dickson indicated the ordinance also includes civil court avenues.
“You can sue the abortionist,” he said. “You can sue the mother. You can sue everyone involved in the death of your son.”
He does not anticipate lawsuits being filed against Waskom or any other city adopting the ban. As of Thursday afternoon, no suits had been filed in either Marshall’s 71st District Court or its federal courtroom annex against Waskom, its mayor or Right to Life of East Texas.
Not surprisingly, Dickson’s ultimate goal is the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion.
“Who says (abortion) is legal?” Dickson asked. “A lot of people are believing this lie. The (U.S.) Supreme Court was wrong on Roe vs. Wade. There’s no right to an abortion in the Constitution. So, it’s just like the issue of slavery. The federal court was wrong on that, and the Supreme Court is wrong on abortion.”