Austin Just Gave Texas Law the Finger and Voted to Fund Abortion Access

In a red state long hostile to abortion rights, this is believed to be a first-of-its-kind program for any U.S. city.
In a red state long hostile to abortion rights, this is believed to be a first-of-its-kind program for a U.S. city.

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The city council of Austin, Texas, voted Tuesday to direct $150,000 to a program that will help people seeking abortions by paying for services like transportation, lodging, and child care.

It’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind program for a U.S. city.

“We hear on our hotline the struggles of arranging for travel, taking time off work, getting someone to take care of their kids making it to the appointment,” said Amanda Beatriz Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund, a Texas group that financially helps people who want abortions.


Williams has spent several weeks talking to city council members and advocating for the provision, which she said will be structured as a competitive grant program. It was approved Tuesday as part of the city’s budget for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal year.

“People who are low-income, people of color, are disproportionately restricted from this safe care. And we don’t think that’s right,” she explained.

Unlike an unprecedented measure passed earlier this year in New York City, the Austin provision won’t pay directly for the abortion procedure itself. Doing so would be illegal in Texas, thanks to a recent law that bans local governments from having “transactions” with abortion providers or their affiliates.

That law went into effect after Austin, a blue spot in a red state, agreed to lease property to a Planned Parenthood health center for 20 years — for just $1 a year.

John Seago, legislative director at the powerful anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, told CNN that while the Austin measure might comply with the letter of Texas law, it doesn’t exactly jibe with its intent.

“The spirit of the law is that we're not going to spend taxpayer dollars to support the abortion industry,” Seago said.

Texas has long been hostile to abortion rights. People who want abortions in Texas must still wait 24 hours after the initial consultation before they can undergo the procedure, and private insurance can’t be used to pay for abortions. Abortion clinics are also still recovering after restrictions passed in 2013 — and later struck down by the Supreme Court — led about half of the state’s abortion providers to close.

Now, in 2019, Southern states are ramping up their attacks on abortion, with multiple states passing laws to ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. But Austin and New York City are among the local governments trying to make it easier to undergo the procedure. As of July, when many state legislatures had closed their doors for the year, six states had enacted 29 abortion rights-supporting measures.

In 2018, just three states enacted five.

“This was a real opportunity to encourage Austin to use their levers of power to bolster access at a time when the state of Texas, and unfortunately many states surrounding Texas in particular, are going in the opposite direction,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which also supported the Austin measure.

Cover: A group gathers to protest abortion restrictions at the state Capitol in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)