Despite a new state law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott this month, that bans local government transactions with abortion providers or affiliates, Austin’s venerable Planned Parenthood clinic just east of Downtown remains largely safe for now.
The center on East Seventh Street at Chicon, established in 1973 in a building owned by the City of Austin, does not provide abortion care, instead delivering preventive services like cancer screenings, HIV tests, and birth control for low-income residents.
Nevertheless, anti-choice legislators took aim at Planned Parenthood’s $1/year lease with the city as a means to attack “the abortion industry.” Mayor Steve Adler and a handful of Council members vocally opposed Senate Bill 22 as it made its way through the Capitol during session, amid fears that the Planned Parenthood clinic would have to close its doors. However, both the Attorney General’s office and the bill’s author Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, say the law isn’t retroactive, meaning the 20-year agreement approved by Council in November is secure until 2039.
Planned Parenthood isn’t calling it a total victory, though. “While this is welcomed news, we are not passing out pink ribbons to the Texas Governor, Lt. Governor or Attorney General,” said Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “Knowing that Planned Parenthood’s popular E. Seventh Street Austin health center won’t be knocked out of a long-term lease agreement by state politicians doesn’t feel like a win. It doesn’t restore the uncertainty of patients who worried whether our doors would be open; and it doesn’t eliminate future efforts by statewide officials to again target our health centers for political goals.”
Moreover, said Wheat, it doesn’t erase past actions by Texas politicians that blocked state funding for preventive healthcare at every one of Planned Parenthood’s health centers across the state, leaving thousands of Texans without care. Wheat also notes that the looming threat of SB 22 caused the clinic and the city to delay needed building improvements: Recent storms damaged the clinic’s waiting room and caused temporary closure of the clinic, but repairs were held up because the clinic wasn’t certain it could stay open. That uncertainty also led to the pause of a $1.3 million renovation project, the first major improvement to the facility in more than 15 years. And of course, says Wheat, the law blocks the provider from any future city collaboration for community outreach or health services.
It remains to be seen whether SB 22, set to take effect on Sept. 1, will affect AISD’s new middle school sex education curriculum, as it was developed in collaboration with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (a legal opinion is pending, says Wheat), or several initiatives in other cities that help provide public health education and services, including pop-up clinics on community college campuses. “The law is vague and we are still evaluating what programs will be directly impacted or discontinued,” said Wheat. Austin ISD is currently preparing for the Board of Trustees to opt to decline to partner with the Planned Parenthood affiliate to avoid a legal challenge; the board is set to discuss the issue in executive session at tonight's (June 17) meeting. In that event, AISD staff would revise the current, 12-year-old curriculum to use while the district finds another partner with which to collaborate on an update.
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