Commissioners voted 3 to 2 along party lines on Tuesday to approve proposals from county Judge Lina Hidalgo that called for the county attorney and analyst’s office to find ways to “promote and expand access to affordable and no-cost contraception, sexual education, family planning, and other programs critical to the safety and wellbeing of Harris County women and families, including access to safe abortions where possible under the law.”
Additionally, the county’s Intergovernmental and Global Affairs program will research and recommend legislative efforts to mitigate the impacts of Texas abortion laws.
“I am very concerned about the impact of this ruling and the near-total ban on abortion in Texas is going to have on the health of so many women and what it’s going to do to push abortions underground again, which we know causes so many dangerous procedures,” said Hidalgo.
According to state legislation passed in 2021, 30 days after the Supreme Court issues its judgment, elective abortions will be a felony in Texas except when performed to save the mother from death or serious bodily injury.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) said that he had contacted officials in St. Louis, Missouri who were exploring the legality of using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to cover abortion-related expenses, but learned ARPA funds may not be eligible for reimbursement.
“I would certainly be supportive, if it’s legal, of using some of our funds to help women who may not be able to exercise their choice,” said Ellis, who added that Chicago was planning to use local taxpayer funds to support abortion services.
Ellis also cited a study published by the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology finding that women who have recently given birth in the United States are twice as likely to die by homicide than any other cause of maternal mortality, and said total maternal morbidity in Harris County rose 53 percent between 2008 and 2015.
Commissioners also approved 3 to 2 a resolution from Ellis calling abortion “essential health care and a human right,” and asserting that the Harris County Commissioner’s Court was committed to promoting the expansion of access to “safe reliable, and affordable contraceptive options and family planning services, and using our authority to ensure all residents have the freedom to control their own bodies, safely care for their families, and live with dignity.”
Multiple speakers both for and against the proposals addressed commissioners, with one speaker saying abortion is a “good” that makes communities safer while another expressed concern that overturning Roe vs Wade would harm the LGBT community.
A woman opposing using taxpayer resources to support abortion asserted that unborn babies do not receive “due process” before being aborted, and a different speaker said the county should be instead spending to address rising crime and homicide rates in the region.
Voting against the proposals, Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) explained his opposition as based on three principles: “love, life, and lane.”
“With this issue, we need to remember to love all parties in the process, the mother and the unborn child,” said Cagle.
Cagle then asserted that what was inside a uterus was not “just property” but “life,” adding, “if it is a life then that innocent life deserves protection.”
“And that leads us to my third point which is lane. We are a county commissioners court. It is our job to fix the potholes. It is our job to make sure that the bathrooms in our parks are clean. It is our job to make sure that we have adequate public safety. We should not be getting out of our lane telling the United States Supreme Court what to be doing.”
Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) responded that it was about life, but that life meant supporting services from “womb to tomb,” including early childhood education and healthcare, and complained that Republicans on the commissioners court had voted against a resolution calling for gun control legislation.
“I cannot help to see the hypocrisy that women consulting with a scientist, a medical doctor, [then] they make a very, very difficult decision and we’re up in arms, yet an 18-year-old can go buy an AR-15 and go massacre young babies and yet we can’t take a position on it,” said Garcia.
Cagle and Hidalgo sparred briefly after the county judge asserted she was a voice for the millions of women she represented, with Cagle pointing out that not all women agreed with her.
Hidalgo responded that there would be some women who disagreed with her “just like there’s a minority of people who believe the election was stolen and continue to pander to that.”
“Are you saying the ones in 2016?” asked Cagle. “At the Democrat National Convention when they were saying that election was stolen?”
Calling Cagle “out of touch,” Hidalgo said banning abortion was an “extreme” position and accused Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) of pandering when he refused to certify election results last year.
Ramsey responded by explaining he did not vote against election results but against the appointed Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s management of the elections.
“And let me tell you something about history,” said Ramsey. “One would say it was the radical pursuit of abortion on demand up to nine months that led us to this position. So, we can all be very clear on why we ended up where we ended up.”
Explaining his opposition, Ramsey said, “63 million lives lost in the last 50 years. Sad day to think it’s taken us 50 years. I will not be supporting any of the three agenda items.”
While commissioners were meeting, a state district court judge in Harris County also issued a temporary restraining order to stop district attorneys in several counties from prosecuting violations of Texas’ pre-1973 abortion ban.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.