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The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that comments made by a pro-life activist, in which he called several pro-abortion organizations “criminal,” are protected speech under the First Amendment.
Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Life of East Texas and the founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn (SCU) movement, was sued in June 2020 by the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, the Afiya Center, and the Texas Equal Access Fund after he called them “criminal organizations” that “murder innocent unborn children.”
The organizations sued Dickson for defamation, but on Friday the Texas Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision written by Justice Jane Bland, wrote that “the challenged statements are protected opinion about abortion law made in pursuit of changing that law, placing them at the heart of protected speech under the United States and Texas Constitutions.”
The justices wrote that Dickson “did not urge or threaten violence, nor did he misrepresent the underlying conduct in expressing his opinions about it.” Therefore, Texas Scorecard reported, the defamation lawsuits against him were dismissed and labeled attempts to “chill a citizen’s exercise of free speech.”
“I am thankful that the Lilith Fund, which shares a name with a demon that preys on women and children, was not successful in their attempt to stop me from referring to their organization as a criminal organization involved in the murder of innocent children,” Dickson said in a statement to The Daily Wire. “I hope the Lilith Fund and the other two abortion assistance groups get out of the baby-murdering business.”
“Abortion is murder, the abortion industry is involved in the murder of innocent children, and we will continue to speak out against these criminal organizations who have a reputation of hurting women and ending the lives of their children,” Dickson added.
While Right To Life of East Texas has been around since shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided, Dickson’s SCU movement began in 2019 when he was able to convince the city of Waskom, Texas, to prohibit abortion within its city limits, just as some Left-wing cities had declared themselves sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants.
Waskom’s city council unanimously passed the ordinance banning abortion providers and pro-abortion organizations from operating within the city, labeling them in the ordinance as “criminal organizations.” It was this phrase that Dickson repeated when posting about the ordinance on social media, Texas Scorecard reported.
The movement grew, with 11 additional cities following Waskom’s lead. In 2020, seven of these 11 cities were sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for discrimination, but the organization dropped the lawsuit after they removed the “criminal organizations” language from their ordinances.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of cities that passed pro-life ordinances.