'I'm just in shock': Austinites react to Supreme Court decision ending the constitutional right to abortion
Dawn Hennessey said she was going to cry.
“Honestly, I’m just in shock," Hennessey, who owns a bakery in South Austin, said. "I’m appalled. It’s a setback. We’re gonna have an underground railroad next thing you know. It’s horrifying.”
Austinites stopped on the street by a reporter Friday expressed disbelief and alarm at news of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that has for decades upheld the right of people to seek an abortion. The high court’s ruling now leaves it to states to decide whether to restrict the procedure.
Later in the afternoon, hundreds gathered at the federal courthouse downtown, preparing to march to the Capitol.
"I could be a criminal for getting an abortion," said 13-year-old Vienna, whose mother would not let her give her last name out of safety concerns. "I could be a criminal for saving my own life ... and I could be a criminal for not wanting to have my rapist's child."
During the march to the Capitol, the crowd chanted, "Abortion is health care" and "Abort Greg Abbott."
"I've had a lifetime of [access to] abortions and these young people won't," Kitty Fowler, 66, said.
Val Rodriguez, 28, said she had no words when she first heard the news; she just felt anger.
"I've always had to be cautious as a woman," she said, "more so now."
Tavy Edwards, 20, held a sign that said, "We are not incubators." They said their mom had a lot of complications during pregnancy and if she had not had access to abortion she could have died.
"It's our fundamental right. ... It's an attack on our human rights," the Texas State University student said. "If I'm in relationships with people who have penises, if I want to have sex with them ... it changes how I conduct the entirety of my life."
Providers in Texas said they would stop offering abortions immediately while they figure out if anti-abortion laws in effect before Roe now apply.
"Right now, we need people who understand law and can analyze what the interaction between the SCOTUS ruling today and the existing — very old — laws mean for us," Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Texas, said at a press conference.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has said that anti-abortion laws pre-dating Roe are indeed in effect. “Under these pre-Roe statutes, abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today," he wrote.
Regardless, Texas has effectively banned most abortions since September, when a law went into effect prohibiting the procedure once a heartbeat is detected — typically around five or six weeks and before most women know they are pregnant. The Supreme Court’s decision triggers HB 1280, passed by Texas legislators last year. The law, designed to take effect if Roe were overturned, makes abortion a crime; people who perform or receive abortions could face up to life in prison and at least $100,000 in fines.
Austin City Council members said last month they plan to pass a law intended to shield residents from this state law. Council Members Chito Vela and Vanessa Fuentes have proposed a resolution that would direct police officers to de-prioritize citing people for alleged abortion crimes and to restrict the city from spending any money to track or investigate abortions.
“[I am] absolutely devastated to see the Supreme Court dismantle Roe and effectively end our right to an abortion,” Fuentes told KUT. “[This proposed ordinance is] anchored on ensuring that we’re doing all that we can within the extent of the law.”
Last month, a spokesperson said the city and its police department are "prepared to take the steps necessary to implement this resolution upon passage by City Council.” Regardless of a directive from the council, Chief Joseph Chacon has the final say on police policy.
A spokesperson for Travis County District Attorney José Garza, whose office would be tasked with prosecuting alleged abortion crimes, told KUT he does not plan to try these cases.
KUT's Andrew Weber and Skye Siepp contributed to this report.