The Texas Legislature passed a law earlier this year banning cities from funding Planned Parenthood and affiliated entities, but some members of the Austin City Council are trying to find a way around the legislation.
“Today we are announcing that Austin is fighting back on behalf of our constituents,” One council member, Greg Casar, told the cameras at a press conference on Monday. “These far right-wing, anti-abortion extremists have created barrier after barrier trying to make abortion impossible to access for our constituents, and we refuse to let that happen.”
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza along with three other Austin city council members—Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, and Paige Ellis—announced plans to pursue a new budget amendment that would fund logistical services that help women receive abortions.
“With the restrictions the state has put on legal abortion care, Texans everywhere, including my constituents, have had to delay care, and it may even mean that legal abortion is out of their reach completely,” said Garza. “So for all of these reasons that we’re talking about today, I’m proud to stand up here with these advocates and with my colleagues to support a budget amendment that will provide these support services to allow women who decide that it is best for them and their families to seek a legal abortion.”
Fund Texas Choice and The Bridge Collective were two of the organizations mentioned at the conference to potentially receive funding from the city—a possible total of $100,000 to $150,000.
Both groups help abortion seekers with logistics such as lodging and transportation, citing a Texas law that requires a 24 hour waiting period after receiving an ultrasound to have an abortion.
Organizations would need to apply through Austin’s department of health to receive funding.
Amanda Beatriz Williams, the executive director of the Lilith Fund, a pro-choice organization in Texas, also spoke at the conference.
“There are eight grassroots abortion funds across Texas who are each the experts in assessing the needs of their own community and bridging the logistical gaps that interfere with their healthcare,” said Williams. “Now the city of Austin has an opportunity to listen to these local experts and to set a new standard for creative and equitable solutions for our communities at a time when state lawmakers and local governments, like Waskom city council, have turned their backs on low-waged workers and people of color, again and again.”
In June, the city council of Waskom unanimously passed an ordinance declaring the city a “sanctuary for the unborn,” making abortion illegal within the town. Since then, similar proposals have been suggested, but not yet adopted, in Mineral Wells, Gilmer, and Abilene.
A few months prior to Waskom’s ordinance, the Texas Senate passed SB 22 to ban state agencies and federal municipalities from funding abortion providers or their affiliates (e.g. Planned Parenthood).
Before the bill was introduced, the city of Austin signed a twenty-year lease agreement with Planned Parenthood at a rate of one dollar per year. Although SB 22 did not affect the agreement since it was made before the bill became law, the center in question has been “temporarily closed” for several months.
State Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), whose district includes part of Austin, authored the bill.
“Senate Bill 22 passed the Texas Legislature to afford the same freedom at the local level that the federal and state have by preventing taxpayer dollars from funding the abortion industry,” Cambell said in a statement. “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. I will be working with the Attorney General’s Office on this issue.”
Kimberlyn Schwartz of Texas Right to Life provided a statement to The Texan saying, “Austin City Council’s grotesque budget proposal is another piece of a growing pile of evidence that the industry that profits off the mass killing of innocent human beings are relentless in seeking to further abortion’s reach at taxpayers’ expense.”
Schwartz finished, “Pro-life Texans can oppose Austin City Council’s politics by outlawing abortion in your community through the ‘Mother and Unborn Child Sanctuary City’ ordinance.”
Funding strategies to increase access to abortions like the one proposed in Austin may become more frequent due to other news.
While the council members were making their announcement, Planned Parenthood was also making an announcement: it would no longer receive Title X federal funding, which had provided 40 percent of its funding according to the organization.
Planned Parenthood’s dropping of federal funding comes after a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a new rule under the Trump administration that prohibited taxpayer-backed funds from going to clinics that referred patients to abortion services.
Under the new rule, Planned Parenthood could continue to receive federal funding for other services so long as abortion is not among them, but the organization chose to drop funding altogether.
Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.