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The Moral Case for Sanctuary City for the
Joe Kral, M.A. | 19 August 2021
On the 48th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Biden Administration issued a statement that it was committed to ensuring all Americans had access to reproductive health care in every zip code.[i] Of course, the term “reproductive health care” primarily means abortion access for the Biden Administration since they have been advocating for the most radical abortion agenda of any president; going as far as to publicly support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, thereby forcing Americans to fund abortion on demand. As a result, this has set the stage to be a record-setting year for pro-life legislation.[ii] In addition to this success, there has been a movement for pro-life legislation at the local level, which will mark 2021 as even more successful.
More cities are looking to pass legislation of their own to help usher in a Culture of Life.[iii] Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinances are now becoming a local phenomenon. While the first ordinance passed in 2019,[iv] since President Biden was elected to the presidency, twenty-one new cities have passed such ordinances.[v] As constructed, the law is quite innovative and has helped pave the way for Texas' Fetal Heartbeat Law. It comes down to the enforcement provision of the law itself. The cities which pass these ordinances are unable to enforce the law until Roe is overturned. However, a private citizen can enforce the law by suing an abortionist for violating the law. It is this particular enforcement provision that has the abortion industry so afraid. When the abortion industry tried to sue the City of Lubbock, Texas, to prevent the law from going into effect, the case was dismissed for lack of standing.[vi] Simply put, the abortion industry could not sue the city because the city could not enforce the law; enforcement of the ordinance is the prerogative of private citizens. As a result, the abortion industry shut down in Lubbock. This has put the abortion industry in a defensive position in terms of litigation. They can only go to court when someone sues. Anyone can sue, which means the abortion clinic may have to deal with multiple lawsuits at once if they break the law. The biological father of the child can sue, the grandparents can sue, the best friend of the pregnant mother can sue. The women who had the abortion can sue.[vii] They can all file separate suits at once if they wish, which means the abortion clinic would have to handle all these different suits at once.
This type of legislation is pressing forward, and many pro-life experts are pleased to see it progress in locales that wish to make the statement that they do not wish abortion to be present in their communities. While one can see the benefits of this legislation, it is time to explore the much deeper moral underpinnings of these initiatives and see just why, from a more profound moral perspective, such proposals ought to be passed. From an ethical perspective, each type of pro-life legislation should be tested to see if it passes the principle of incrementalism, which is the basis of this particular article.
As elaborated in a past article,[viii] the principle of incrementalism was explained by St. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Evangelium vitae.[ix] Three elements need to be met: 1) an evil law must already exist, 2) the proposed legislation must limit the existing evil, and 3) the proposed legislation if enacted, must help move public opinion away from the acceptance of the existing evil law.
Now, how do these types of ordinances follow the principle of incrementalism? The first two elements are rather easy to point out. Firstly, the evil law that exists is Roe v. Wade itself. The US Supreme Court ruling allowed for abortion to become legal across the country. Certainly, its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, and the subsequent decision that upheld much of its framework but changed the trimester framework into the "undue burden test," Planned Parenthood v. Casey can be cited for their parts in the foundation within the existence of the evil law as well. Nonetheless, Roe tends to be the foundational case since it is the one that legalized abortion.
Secondly, it is easily ascertained that the proposed ordinances limit the evil by prohibiting the practice of abortion within that particular locality. While the city cannot enforce the law until Roe is overturned, a private citizen does have the ability to enforce by suing the abortion provider. This particular action limits the ability of the abortion provider to provide abortions. If the abortion provider does abortions within that locality, they can be sued by one or more parties.
Thirdly, and it is here where the discussions of moving public opinion away from the acceptance of the existing evil law and of the common good can take place. Naturally, one may see how this helps move public opinion away from the acceptance of the existing law merely by noticing that other locales are also taking up the clarion call and passing such legislation. While this is the most obvious sign of helping move the needle, there needs to be a more sublime answer to help explain what exactly is going on. St. Thomas Aquinas may help shed some light on this particular issue when he describes the relationship between virtue and the common good, “But the law as stated above (I-II, Q. 90, A. 2) is ordered to the common good. Therefore, there is no virtue whose acts cannot be prescribed by the law."[x] The common good is related to the virtue of the community. And it is here in particular that people are motivated by the virtue of justice to protect their fellow human neighbors who happen to be in the womb. With this particular piece of legislation, public opinion is moved by the virtue of justice to protect their neighbor from an unjust death. People come to see the injustice of abortion through the law as teacher and as a community; we proclaim that it "will not happen here." This sort of proclamation has had the effect of inspiring other communities to do the same. So not only has the law had an impact on the community itself, but it has also impacted communities elsewhere.
Finally, it does seem that within the next few years, the pro-life movement will see a surge in local communities pass such ordinances, especially as long as the Biden Administration pushes a radical pro-abortion agenda. More communities want to ensure that their zip code does not become a place of business for the abortion industry. While this has been a record-setting year for pro-life legislation on the state level, it will also become record-setting for what will be done on the local level as well. These Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinances will very much help usher in a Culture of Life, and more and more cities are doing their part.
[i] You may retrieve the White House press statement here: Statement from President Biden and Vice President Harris on the 48th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade | The White House.
[ii] New, Michael J., “New Record! States Pass More Pro-Life Laws Saving Babies in 2021 Than Any Other Year”, LifeNews.com, July 12, 2021. New Record! States Pass More Pro-Life Laws Saving Babies in 2021 Than Any Other Year - LifeNews.com. Article retrieved on August 16, 2021.
[iii] In fact, by the time of this writing, 36 cities around the nation have passed Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinances.
[iv] Miller, Ryan W., “’Sanctuary City for The Unborn': All-Male City Council in Texas Town Bans Most Abortions," USA Today, June 13, 2019. Waskom, Texas, declared 'sanctuary city for the unborn,' bans abortion (usatoday.com). Article retrieved on August 17, 2021.
[v] Bilger, Micaiah, “Texas City Votes to Ban Abortion, Becomes 37th Nationwide to Protect Unborn Children”, LifeNews.com, August 17, 2021. Texas City Votes to Ban Abortion, Becomes 37th Nationwide to Protect Unborn Children - LifeNews.com. Article retrieved on August 17, 2021.
[vi] Najmabadi, Shannon, "Lawsuit to Block Lubbock's Abortion Ban is Dismissed in Court as the Ordinance Takes Effect," Texas Tribune, June 2, 2021. Lawsuit to block Lubbock's abortion ban ordinance is dismissed in court | The Texas Tribune. Article retrieved on August 17, 2021.
[vii] You may view Lubbock’s ordinance (before its final passage here: 7I1admNrFWRf43nrtfCDY53mplZbg85H0QGTMEhD.pdf (lubbock.tx.us).
[viii] Kral, Joe, "The Gospel of Life and Incrementalism," Sebastian’s Point, March 29, 2018. SP/03/29/18/Incremental/Kral | societyofstsebastian. Article retrieved on August 18, 2021.
[ix] See St. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, no. 73.
[x] Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 96, A. 3.
Joe Kral, M.A.
President of the Society of St. Sebastian
Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture