Architect of Texas’ sweeping abortion law targets new state
Mark Lee Dickson sings songs of praise during a worship service Sept. 1, 2021 at Trinity Church in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Mark Lee Dickson is on a mission to criminalize abortion in the state of Texas. A pastor and the leader of Right to Life of East Texas – as well as a self-identified “36 year old virgin-Dickson traveled to 400 towns in Texas in 2019, encouraging cities to declare themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn” and to pass ordinances banning abortion. He was successful, helping pass nearly 50 ordinances banning abortion in cities across Texas and a handful of other states.
Her accomplishments on the road launched her career as one of the nation’s best-known anti-abortion advocates.
Dickson’s legislative strategy to ban city-level abortions paved the way for Texas’ vigilante six-week abortion ban that went into effect last year. The anti-abortion lawyer, along with attorney and former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, formulated an enforcement mechanism that would circumvent any legal or legal challenge: delegate enforcement to private citizens, rather than forces law enforcement or other government agencies. It took place in towns across Texas, until Dickson and Mitchell took their idea statewide. With the help of Texas Republicans, Dickson helped craft Senate Bill 8—the most extreme abortion restriction at the time—which financially incentivized individuals to sue anyone who aids or abets Texans trying to get abortions beyond six weeks.
Unlike other recent attempts to ban abortion in early pregnancy, SB 8 was able to survive legal challenges when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. The measure, arguably one of the first major warning signs that Roe would soon fall, was a huge victory for abortion opponents like Dickson.
Fast forward a full year and Roe is dead. More than a dozen states, including Texas, have enacted near-total abortion bans, forcing many Americans to travel to other states for care.
Dickson, triumphant in Texas, now turned to New Mexico, a state where many Texans have fled to access critical abortion care.
Two New Mexico towns near the Texas border are discussing abortion bans within their city limits that will come to a vote in the coming weeks, and a handful of other communities in the region, including the City of Lovington and County of Lea are discussing similar measures. . The city council of Clovis, a farming town in eastern New Mexico, will vote on Nov. 3 on an ordinance to ban abortion providers and criminalize sending abortion drugs or pills through the mail. And the city commission in Hobbs, a town about 2.5 hours south of Clovis, voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to proceed with an ordinance banning abortion. A final vote in Hobbs is scheduled for November 7.
Dickson was a central figure behind both of these proposals.
He has been in communication with Clovis residents for over a year to make the town a ‘sanctuary town for unborn children’, Dickson says Eastern New Mexico News earlier this month.
“I just answered a call. All I did was go where the Lord called me,” Dickson said. I could do it myself. I went ahead saying, “God help me. God help this town. I can’t do this alone. We can’t do this alone. We’re going to need your help.'”
Dickson spoke at an anti-abortion rally in Hobbs earlier this month, alongside other abortion opponents from Texas and New Mexico. He can also be seen clapping in the background of a Hobbs City council meeting after an all-male council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance banning abortion.
Neither Clovis nor Hobbs have abortion clinics within their city limits, but some reproductive health organizations have expressed interest in expanding abortion services to Texas border towns to accommodate the influx of patients traveling in New Mexico. Amy Hagstrom Miller, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, recently said she would like to offer services in or around Clovis, Hobbs and Roswell, another town in New Mexico near the Texas border.
Dickson is trying to anticipate such a move. “We know abortion providers want to set up shop right here in these towns that are just minutes from the Texas border,” Dickson said. told Reuters after a recent Hobbs Town Commission meeting. “They want to attract as many Texas residents as possible for abortions right here in New Mexico.”
The Clovis and Hobbs orders are likely to face legal challenges if passed, but similar measures in Texas, also led by Dickson, have survived previous lawsuits. There are currently eight abortion clinics in New Mexico. The closest for residents of Clovis and Hobbs are in Albuquerque, a four to five hour drive away.
Many Texans and Oklahomans have fled to New Mexico in order to access abortion care over the past year. Since 2021, when Texas’ vigilante abortion ban went into effect, New Mexico has taken in a flood of Texas patients, with a clinic reports that he was booked for four weeks and that 75% of his patients were from Texas. Following Roe’s overthrow, the southwestern state became home to several clinics that were forced to close and relocate including the Jackson Women’s Health Organizationthe Mississippi clinic at the center of the Supreme Court case that ended national abortion protections.
New Mexico is also one of five states that provide crucial abortion care later in pregnancy, as there is no legal limit on abortion in the state.
There is a chance, albeit slim, that the next election could change that. Joe Biden won New Mexico by a nearly 11% margin of victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election, and Democrats hold the governor’s seat and a majority in both houses of the state legislature. It’s a largely pro-choice state, though some pockets — including rural areas like those Dickson targets — are more conservative.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is currently leading her GOP rival, abortion opponent Mark Ronchetti, of about 7.5 points in the polls. Dickson has supported Ronchetti on several occasions, recently posting a photo of himself with the contestant on Facebook and writing that Ronchetti “be a serious upgrade” by Lujan Grisham.
During his primary, Ronchetti ran on a “strongly pro-life” platform in which he said he would oppose abortion “at all stages” and that “unborn babies have a soul, can feel emotions and are very much a human being”. But after Roe’s fall this summer, Ronchetti began to backtrack on her strong anti-abortion views — apparently take a page from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s playbook (R).
Now Ronchetti describes himself as a moderate, saying he would “seek common ground on abortion” and calling for a 15-week ban. Just last month Ronchetti ran a campaign ad again downplaying his anti-abortion stance and proposing a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment on abortion to “give people a voice.”
But Dickson still supports Ronchetti. During the Clovis Municipal Commission meeting earlier this month, Dickson claimed that he and Ronchetti had recently discussed the ordinances banning abortion.
“I was talking to Mark Ronchetti, and I was telling him a while ago what was happening here tonight. And I said, you know, this is what you’re talking about…among the people, the communities deciding this issue,” Dickson said, addressing the city commission board.
“I said, when Clovis does this, don’t ruin the occasion,” he continued. “Stand with the people of Clovis, support the people of Hobbs, support the people of New Mexico who are pro-life and want to see this state, these counties, these cities, move forward with the heart of what New Mexicans have. really believe.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.