Abortion clinics can change the viewpoint of entire communities, a pastor who is working to outlaw abortion locally says. 

So far, six towns in Texas have banned abortion clinics with his help, and cities and towns in other states have shown an interest in doing the same.

Pastor Mark Lee Dickson says he sees a difference, for example, between Shreveport, Louisiana, a large city where an abortion clinic operates, and places such as Waskom, Texas, where abortion culture hasn’t taken hold.

“It’s a view of life as a whole,” Dickson told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “If we can say a child is not worth living because they may be born in a poor environment, or a child is not worth living because their mother was raped, that encourages the idea that situations devalue us as human beings.”

Dickson, 34, is not only the pastor of SovereignLOVE Church in Longview, Texas, but also director of Right to Life East Texas. Along with Texas Right to Life, a separate pro-life group, his organization works to outlaw abortion one town or city at a time. His website is called Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn.

Pastor Mark Lee Dickson strikes a pose Tuesday outside the city hall of Mount Enterprise, Texas, one of the towns that some residents hope will become a “sanctuary city for the unborn.” (Photo courtesy of Mark Lee Dickson)

Kathaleen Pittman, administrator at the abortion clinic in Shreveport, Hope Medical Group for Women, argues that the primary reason women get abortions is finances. 

“They simply can’t afford another child,” Pittman said in an email interview with The Daily Signal. “The majority of women we see already have one or more children.”

To combat the viewpoint that life’s value comes from circumstance, Dickson helped the Texas towns of Waskom, Gilmer, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, and Omaha to outlaw creation of abortion clinics within their borders.

Combined population: about 11,815. Right now, Dickson helps lead a campaign to ban abortion in more Texas localities, including Mount Enterprise, Mount Vernon, Madisonville, White Oak, Carthage, Henderson, Greenville, and Abilene. 

Dickson was born and grew up in White Oak, population about 6,500. Longview, where he is based, has about 80,000 residents.

Right to Life East Texas has yet to approach the Longview City Council about passing an abortion ban, although he says many residents there would like to see one.

Dickson, whose church belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention and East Texas Baptist Network, said that when people believe their value comes from their situation, they feel worthless when life’s troubles weigh on them. 

If they think abortion is better for mothers and babies than a hard life is, he said, they also will think death is preferable to facing struggles in their own lives.

“It adds to this suicide culture. People want to end their lives,” Dickson said. 

In contrast, the pastor said, he offers compassion born from a belief that all people are valuable before God.

“We’re going to support mothers. We’re going to support them in any way possible, but we won’t help them kill their child,” he said.

Pastor Mark Dickson, left, with Joaquin Mayor Bill Baker. (Photo: Brooke Jernigan)

Since the 1990s, Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport has considered relocating to Texas if Louisiana’s abortion laws became more strict, Dickson said.

In late May, he asked the mayor of Waskom, Texas, to help prevent it. 

Shreveport has more than 192,000 residents, while Waskom has about 2,190.

“I did not want to see an abortion clinic in Waskom out of fear of what that could do to the community,” the pastor said. “Of course it sounds crazy, asking the mayor to do something that’s never been done before in the nation. But what happened in that process is that the whole world heard about it.”

On June 13, Waskom became the first town in the United States to outlaw abortion after Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case in 1973 that declared abortion a constitutional right. 

Towns and cities in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee have contacted Dickson about plans to ban abortion within their borders. 

The six Texan localities all passed their own versions of the same law, which Dickson said relies on two enforcement mechanisms. 

One allows family members of the unborn baby to sue the abortion doctor, the person who paid for the abortion, and the person who transported the mother to an abortion clinic taking place in a town with the law. The potential lawsuits disincentivize abortion in a town with such a law. 

The second enforcement mechanism is a $2,000 fine for anyone who performs an abortion in town. That is the maximum fine for violating a local health ordinance in Texas, Dickson said. 

However, the twist is that the fines won’t apply unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

If and when that happens, an abortion clinic that performs 100 abortions a week could face over $10 million in fines per year under the local laws.

The approach poses a dare to abortion providers: Will most Americans believe abortion is morally acceptable in the future? 

If so, they won’t sue those involved in the procedure, and towns never will apply the fines. If not, then opening a clinic in a town with such a law will have severe consequences.

The abortion clinic in Shreveport performs around 20 abortions on Tuesdays, 30 on Wednesdays, and 50 on Saturdays, Dickson said.

“If 50 people died in a school shooting, it would be on the news constantly,” the pastor said. “There’s 20 innocent children dying every Tuesday at that abortion clinic. Why aren’t they doing that with the lives of unborn children?”

Dyana Limon-Mercado, interim executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, told The Dallas Morning News that Waskom’s ordinance was part of a nationwide attack on reproductive rights.

“The intent of this local ordinance passed by an all-male city council is clear: Ban abortion and punish anyone who tries to access care or even help Texans considering an abortion,” Limon-Mercado said of the Waskom law. “This is an attack on the rights of everyone who might or can get pregnant.”

Dickson’s campaign recently suffered a setback. On Oct. 14, the Omaha City Council voted to repeal the law unanimously passed Sept. 9 and make the measure a nonbinding resolution. 

The council, which includes four women and two men, did so on the advice of the attorney for the town of about 1,000, according to Dickson’s Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn website. 

Dickson told The Daily Signal that he has received phone calls from Omaha citizens who are “ready to elect new councilmen.”

This article has been modified to list more states where localities express interest in banning abortion, to clarify where the pastor grew up, and to correct a caption misstating the “sanctuary” status of Mount Enterprise.