Last May, Lubbock became the biggest city in Texas to ban abortion within city limits. Now, with abortion outlawed throughout the Lone Star State, the fight over reproductive rights is taking a new turn.
WOLFFORTH — When the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortions in June, Destiny Adams felt the country was taking a step backward. So she decided to push her small West Texas town a step forward.
To do her part, Adams began leaving free emergency contraception kits neatly packed in white plastic bags in the bathroom of her coffeehouse, Tumbleweed + Sage.
The kits — which retail for up to $60 — go quick, Adams said. The first 50 were gone within a week.
“We don’t charge people or ask questions, we don’t take names, we don’t even know who grabs them,” Adams said.
With the steady flow of caffeine and Plan B available at Tumbleweed + Sage, Adams has drawn the ire of protesters from the area’s anti-abortion movement to her shop. Some in this Lubbock suburb of about 5,100 have even reported her shop to the Wolfforth Police Department for giving away the emergency contraceptive pills.
The clash between the coffee shop owner and abortion opponents is the latest salvo in a long debate in the region.
Last May, Lubbock became the biggest city in Texas — and the only one with an abortion provider — to ban the practice within city limits. Months later, Texas lawmakers passed a law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
The Lubbock area was — and is — a harbinger in the debate over reproductive rights. And the new epicenter might just be Tumbleweed + Sage. With abortion outlawed in the Lone Star State, the fight in large part is turning to contraception. The fault lines are familiar: Abortion-rights activists are pushing multiple forms of contraception, including Plan B. Abortion opponents are lobbying for additional bans on the medicine.
Lubbock led the way in curtailing abortions
Getting access to abortion has been rarely been easy in Lubbock, and the nationwide debate has played out here in remarkable ways.
Planned Parenthood reopened its clinic in late 2020, after closing in 2013 due to another Texas law blocking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The facility, which is still open and offering other services, is tucked away near a residential area at the end of the city’s medical district. At its peak, it saw patients from rural areas all over West Texas, the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico.
“We saw people from all over, which really stresses how important the service was here and how needed it is,” said Angela Martinez, manager of the Lubbock clinic. “Then the sanctuary city vote happened and we had to go back to offering referrals and sending people out.”
The heated debate for Lubbock to become a “sanctuary city for the unborn” started as Planned Parenthood prepared to reopen its clinic.
In September 2020, state lawmakers representing Lubbock pushed city officials to create the measure.
Two months later, the City Council heard nearly six hours of public comments before unanimously voting to reject the sanctuary city ordinance. Most members of the council said that while they opposed abortion, they had concerns about the enforcement and constitutionality of the ordinance.
Then, more than 4,500 Lubbock voters signed a petition to force a special election on the issue. Churches in the area were vocal supporters of the ordinance and encouraged their congregations to vote in support of it. “Vote for Life” signs dotted the city on the eve of the special election.
Ultimately, the ordinance passed on May 1, 2021, by 62%, with just a quarter of registered voters — 34,260 — participating.
The Sunday after the vote, local pastors declared it a victory.
The ordinance empowered private residents to bring lawsuits against anyone who was “aiding and abetting” someone getting an abortion. The ordinance went into effect two weeks before state lawmakers passed a similar statewide law, known as Senate Bill 8, which effectively banned abortions statewide after six weeks of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood provided abortion services to the Lubbock region for just two months before it had to stop.
“I think people were stunned because they had no idea the hurdles they had to go through next,” Martinez said.
Planned Parenthood challenged the ordinance in a lawsuit but dropped the case eight months later, saying “it is clear we cannot depend on the courts to protect our constitutional rights.”
Terisa Clark is part of the leadership team at Project Destiny, the organization that spearheaded the Lubbock ordinance. According to the group, a section in the ordinance makes an exception if a pregnant person’s life is at risk, but Clark said that other than that, the group wants abortion to be unthinkable. While there have been a lot of victories, it is still working to push for more abortion bans.
“We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that abortion is illegal, as much as we can influence that and the people in each community and each day can influence that,” Clark said.
Neither side is backing down
Lubbock’s Planned Parenthood is still open and provides women’s health services, but not abortions. Among those services is “empowerment kits,” which include emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and condoms. Also included: a voter registration card and information on Senate Bill 8.
Women who go to Planned Parenthood are still occasionally confronted by protesters, serving as a reminder that the clinic is not welcome by some in conservative Lubbock.
“If Planned Parenthood can figure it out and be supportive of women’s health and caring for women without abortion services, then that’s better,” Clark said. “My suspicion is if they exist in a city, they’re probably only there to refer to the other states where they can perform abortions.”
Adams, the suburban coffee shop owner, faced those anti-abortion protesters when she visited the clinic for a pregnancy test last year.
“They were just there to hoot and holler, to make me feel ashamed in some way,” Adams recalled. “They still made me feel sick to my stomach. I just thought, “Why are these people like this in Lubbock of all places?”
Despite the string of victories stretching from the voter-approved ban, the Lubbock anti-abortion movement is not finished. In fact, the changes in the state and by the U.S. Supreme Court over the last year have only invigorated people, Clark said.
“The fight for life is not over, and probably never will be over, to be honest,” she said.
Martinez said Planned Parenthood still has a lot of people reaching out to it every day for various resources, so the clinic will stay in Lubbock to offer support to the people in the region who need it.
“There are needs that need to be met in Lubbock,” Martinez said. “So us being here is really important to the community, and I know we’re needed. I don’t see us going anywhere anytime soon.”
A new fight after Supreme Court decision
Among the new fronts in the battle over reproduction rights is contraception, including Plan B — an emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy but does not cause abortions. And abortion-rights activists have stepped up their effort to increase access to such pills that can prevent pregnancy.
Adams joined the fight after a friend asked her to work with Jane’s Due Process, a Texas-based nonprofit that helps teens access abortions and reproductive health care.
When Adams posted on TikTok for the first time that she would be distributing emergency contraception kits, the video garnered attention overnight.
By morning, protesters gathered outside the shop holding graphic photos of aborted fetuses.
At one point, she extended a symbolic olive branch, taking cold water to them in the 100-degree weather. But she said they were rude and she regretted it afterwards.
“It’s ironic because my baby gets to see them now, out of the womb, yelling at us as we walk into our coffee shop,” Adams said.
The kits made by Jane’s Due Process and distributed at Adams’ coffee shop include two pills, since the amount taken depends on the weight of the person taking it, two packs of condoms, a pregnancy test and a booklet of information containing resources.
There are more than $100 worth of products in the kits, and they are possible through $17.7 million in funding for Texas from the federal Title X Family Planning Program.
What Adams is doing is legal. Emergency contraception is sold over the counter in stores such as Walgreens and CVS, and it does not require a doctor’s prescription or parental consent to people over 17 years old. Despite this, the Wolfforth Police Department has been called several times about the kits.
“We have received many calls and emails questioning the legality of this practice,” the department said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the legality of the practice is not a simple question to answer. We have been researching the matter and have reached out to many state and local officials for help in determining the lawfulness of the issue.”
Adams expected the response and has even told her supporters to not send negative comments to the police because “they’re just doing their job.” The intimidation hasn’t scared her.
And for all the attacks, there has been community support.
“We saw grandmas talking to their granddaughters about the kits, we saw college-aged women, women my age and young mothers,” Adams said. “The people that have come and asked for them seemed like they truly needed them.”
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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