Four Austin City Council members want the city to help low-income women obtain abortions – without the city actually paying for the procedure.
At the urging of local reproductive rights groups, Austin city leaders are working to set aside up to $150,000 for groups that provide transportation, lodging, child care and counseling to women seeking abortions. The budget measure, which is supported by Council members Paige Ellis, Delia Garza, Leslie Pool and Greg Casar, is a city response to state laws that curb access to abortion.
“We have seen how this right has been chipped away at – from waiting periods to sonogram bills to all kinds of barriers being placed in front of women – who are simply seeking an option that is still a constitutional right in this country,” said Mayor Pro Tem Garza.
Over the years, members of Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said they have asked city leaders to take what they see as “proactive solutions” that would address access issues for women seeking an abortion like not having a ride to an appointment or a babysitter.
“We would love to see this funding go to organizations on the ground providing practical and logistical support services,” said Amanda Beatriz Williams, the executive director of the Lilith Fund.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 22, which banned local governments from giving money to groups that provide abortions — even if that funding doesn’t pay for abortions, which federally law prohibits. The law was aimed at providers like Planned Parenthood, which has existing relationships with the City of Austin.
Garza said the law's passage prompted her and other leaders to think of unique ways to help women seeking abortions at the city level.
“The city has to find creative ways to help vulnerable communities in our city, and I see this as just another way,” she said.
State Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels said in a statement Monday that she thinks this effort would violate SB 22.
“I have not read the amendment to the City of Austin's budget yet but on its face, it defiantly violates the spirit of Senate Bill 22, if not an outright violation against the law,” she said. “I will be working with the Attorney General's Office on this issue."
However, advocacy groups that urged the Austin City Council to draft this budget amendment said it wouldn’t violate the law because the groups that would receive the city funds don’t provide abortions.
“They are not abortion providers and they are not abortion affiliates,” Williams said. “We feel confident that this is 100% in compliance with the law.”
The move comes at a time when other Texas cities are considering outright bans on the procedure.
For example, an all-male city council in Waskom, Texas voted to outlaw abortions earlier this summer. Garza said it’s not a coincidence that Austin’s majority-female city council has taken the opposite approach.
“If we don’t continue to have this kind of pushback we will just continue to see additional barriers,” she said.