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ACLU sues 7 Texas ‘sanctuary cities for the unborn’ for violating abortion rights groups’ free speech

File photo (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (2019 Getty Images)

(CNN) – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against seven towns in Texas that have declared themselves "sanctuary cites for the unborn," a recent trend among some conservative towns dissatisfied with state abortion policies.

The group filed the challenge on behalf of the Texas Equal Access Fund and the Lilith Fund — two abortion rights groups among those that the cities’ ordinances deem “criminal organizations” and ban from offering services, renting or buying property or having a presence in the cities.

While the battle over abortion rights has largely played out at the state level, the group’s challenge points to federal law that they claim still applies to localities looking to advocate for abortion positions that run counter to — or, in other cases, extend beyond — those of their states.

While the ordinances claim to outlaw abortion, the procedure remains legal in Texas, and the ordinances state that they can not take effect as long as Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case legalizing abortion nationwide, still stands. But the abortion rights groups argue that the towns' ordinances violate their constitutional right to free expression, hinders them from doing their work and judges them as criminals without ever affording them a trial.

Anjali Salvador, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement that "cities cannot punish pro-abortion organizations for carrying out their important work -- especially when they do so in a way that violates their First Amendment rights."

CNN has reached out to officials in all seven Texas towns: Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, Rusk, Gary and Wells. Wells, the only town that has responded, declined to comment.

The seven towns in the lawsuit are among nearly a dozen towns in Texas that have voted to become such "sanctuary cities for the unborn." At least 13 cities are considering such ordinances, and three -- Mineral Wells, Omaha and Jacksboro -- have already voted against them.

When asked why the ACLU chose to challenge these seven particular towns, Salvador said that the group filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas "where there is the highest concentration of cities," though adding that "we are keeping all our options open in any district that has these ordinances."

The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life called the ACLU's lawsuit "scattershot," "desperate" and "baseless," accusing the plaintiffs of "throwing a hodgepodge of complaints at the court and seeing what they can get to stick."

"We are confident the Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinances will hold up in court," Texas Right to Life wrote in a statement, adding that the towns "acted within their constitutional rights to self-governance and within the scope of current U.S. Supreme Court abortion jurisprudence."

The Texas towns are not the first cities to disagree with the states’ abortion policy. In September, Austin, Texas, moved to set aside $150,000 in its 2020 budget for abortion support resources and in June, New York moved to become what abortion activists said would be the first city in the country to provide funding for abortions.