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Austin City Council votes to decriminalize abortion

Abortion rights advocates participate in an all-day sit-in at the Texas State Capitol on July 7.
Michael Minasi
Abortion rights advocates participate in an all-day sit-in at the Texas State Capitol on July 7.

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The Austin City Council has approved a resolution that will effectively decriminalize abortion in Austin.

The resolution, called the Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone (GRACE) Act, was proposed by Council Member Chito Vela. It asks law enforcement agencies to make prosecuting abortion-seekers and providers their lowest priority. The resolution will also stop the city from spending money on investigating or cataloging information related to any “abortion, miscarriage, or other reproductive healthcare act.”

"This council is committed to and will continue to support our constituents who overwhelmingly agree that people should have access to abortion," said District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis. "To the folks who don't like abortion: don't get one. That's what choice is for."

The passage of this resolution does not require Austin law enforcement agencies to follow the decriminalization protocol. However, prior to the passage of this resolution, both a spokesperson for the Austin Police Department and Travis County District Attorney José Garza said that they would follow the guidelines in the GRACE Act.

The resolution will protect Austinites from criminalization under Texas’ “trigger law,” which goes into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court releases its judgment. The law bans abortion at any point in the pregnancy, except if the mother is at risk of losing her life or “major bodily function.” It also makes providing an abortion a felony punishable by up to $100,000 or life in prison.

Abortion providers in Texas, though, have already stopped services because of legal complications, including some Texas politicians arguing that a 1925 abortion ban is still in effect since it was never officially overturned, only trumped when Roe v. Wade passed.

The decriminalization model has been used in Austin before. In 2020, the City Council voted to decriminalize marijuana in Austin. Initially, then-Police Chief Brian Manley said he would instruct officers to continue to follow state marijuana laws, but after six months, he agreed to follow City Council’s resolution and stop making arrests for small amounts of marijuana.

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