Council Members To Back Abortion Support Budget Measure

Garza, Casar plan support for $100K in abortion assistance

Council Members Delia Garza and Greg Casar join the Repro Power initiative outside City Hall in 2017. Reaffirming their commitment to reproductive rights, they're backing a budget measure to support abortion access. (Photo by Mary Tuma)

In response to the growing hostility toward abortion rights – nationally, statewide, and now at the municipal level in Texas – City Council members, including Delia Garza and Greg Casar, plan to back a budget amendment that directs around $100,000 to support logistical services for abortion access, said to be the first of its kind in the nation.

Mayor Pro Tem Garza likens the potential investment to the way Council has helped Austinites seek other social services, like paid sick leave, increased subsidies for child care for City employees, and funding for immigrant legal services, and financial literacy education.

"This proposal addresses an important equity issue as well, because we know that the regulatory and cost burdens of accessing the full range of reproductive health care services, including abortion, fall disproportionately on our most vulnerable residents," said Garza. "Promoting equity in our city has been a top priority for me, and this is a real, tangible way to level the playing field and promote health equity.”

Before an official announcement slated for Monday, reproductive rights advocates who collaboratively assisted council members in the strategy told the Chronicle the budget measure is a pushback to the draconian anti-choice laws spreading in the South, like Alabama and Georgia, and the growing trend among Texas cities to outlaw the medical procedure. In June, the all-male Council of Waskom voted to ban abortion and criminalize assisting someone in obtaining an abortion. That ordinance, written with the help of Right to Life East Texas, only includes exceptions for rape and incest or where the mother’s life is in danger. Mineral Wells City also considered taking similar action last month but voted the ordinance down after fears of an eventual lawsuit.

“With all the activity at the local level in Texas it really lit a fire under us to make improvements to access locally here in Austin,” Amanda Williams of the Lilith Fund tells us. “Our city claims to be very committed to abortion access and now is the time to put their money where their mouth is and show the community they prioritize and value abortion as health care.”

If approved by Council, the funds would flow through the Austin Public Health department and be open for competitive bidding in a request for proposal process and go toward organizations that do not perform abortions but that do assist with travel, lodging, child care, and emotional and doula support. (Council is expected to make budget decisions on Sept. 10.)

Advocates point to New York City’s recent move to allocate $250,000 to abortion assistance programs as the closest model – however, due to restrictive state laws, the city cannot directly fund abortion, but can help with abortion care logistics. Senate Bill 22, passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year, further attacked local government’s ability to contract with abortion providers and affiliates, and allows Attorney General Ken Paxton to file suit if a city violates the law. The Council budget measure, however, specifically would not flow toward any abortion provider or affiliate (like Planned Parenthood) as the law targets, only groups that provide assistance.

Stressing the importance of abortion funds, Delma Catalina Limones of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, reminds that just because abortion is legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily accessible to all. Abortion funds, including Fund Texas Choice and The Bridge Collective, sit on the front lines of that abortion assistance, helping women obtain access and resources daily. With the state’s mandatory 24-hour pre-abortion sonogram and skyrocketing distance, appointment wait times, and costs, women must navigate a limited and difficult landscape when obtaining abortion care in Texas. Sometimes that’s meant possibly forgoing the procedure altogether: A 2017 TxPEP study in the Journal of the American Medical Assoc­i­a­tion found that counties where the distance to the nearest facility increased 100 miles or more saw a 50% decline in abortions. A previous study documented cases where the multiple burdens forced women to either obtain abortions later in pregnancy or, in a few instances, continue an unwanted pregnancy. The funding organizations have played an increasingly pivotal role in connecting women to health care amid shuttered clinics due to harsh anti-abortion laws.

“While right-wing leaders at the federal and state level have made it impossible for so many, especially low income people, to access care it’s really important for our city to stand up for our constituents and help take down some of those many barriers,” Council Member Greg Casar, a supporter of the budget measure, tells us.

Williams says that while the local abortion bans created an opportunity to reaffirm Austin’s dedication to reproductive health access, the groundwork for the idea was years in the making. In 2017, reproductive justice groups banded together outside City Hall to launch a "Repro Power" initiative aimed at lobbying local governments to take proactive steps to protect reproductive justice policies.

“This was the right moment to push hard in a proactive way,” says Williams. “People in our communities should feel like they have the support they need.”

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