Austin City Council Voted To Fund Support For Abortions. Now A Former Councilmember Is Suing.

Sep 12, 2019

Former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman filed a lawsuit in a Travis County district court Wednesday challenging the city's effort to fund logistical services for low-income women obtaining abortions.

In a filing, Zimmerman argued "this expenditure of taxpayer money violates the state’s abortion laws and should be promptly enjoined."

At the urging of advocacy groups, city council members set aside $150,000 in the recently passed city budget for groups that provide transportation, lodging, child care and counseling to women seeking abortions. None of these grants would actually pay for the procedure itself. Advocates say Austin is the first city in the country to fund a program like this.  

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza told KUT last month this is an effort to find a way to help women seeking abortions at the city level in light of a new state law.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 22, which bans local governments from giving money to groups that provide abortions — even if that funding doesn’t outright pay for abortions, which federally law already prohibits.

“The city has to find creative ways to help vulnerable communities in our city, and I see this as just another way,” Garza said.

Opponents of the effort have said it’s a direct violation of Senate Bill 22, but advocates say it is lawful because the groups that would receive the city funds don’t provide abortions.

“They are not abortion providers and they are not abortion affiliates,” Amanda Beatriz Williams, the executive director of the Lilith Fund, told KUT in August. “We feel confident that this is 100% in compliance with the law.”

According to the lawsuit, Zimmerman claims that this budget item is in violation of other state laws, including one that "imposes criminal liability on anyone who 'furnishes the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended.'"

Zimmerman, the sole plaintiff in this case, is asking the court to block the funding and declare "that the mayor and the city are violating state law by providing taxpayer money to abortion-assistance organizations," according to Wednesday's filing. 

In a call with reporters on Thursday, current councilmembers defended their action.

"Obviously, we feel like we are entirely on strong ground and I welcome a challenge, if there has to be one. And it will prove up that we are in good shape," said District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool.