Sidestepping Texas Law, Austin Becomes First U.S. City To Fund Abortion Support Services

As Texas continues to enact laws making it harder for women to obtain abortions — and impossible for towns and cities to provide funding for abortion care — a liberal stronghold city is sidestepping these restrictions to make the procedure more accessible.  

The city of Austin voted this week to earmark $150,000 in next year’s budget for “logistical and supportive services for abortion access,” CNN reported. The money will be used to help poor women to overcome barriers to abortion care like transportation and lodging costs, child care and other services. City funds won’t actually pay for the procedure itself.

The Austin City Council voted 10-1 on Tuesday to approve the budget amendment. It makes the Texas state capital is the first U.S. city to use public funds to provide easier access to abortion care, according to NBC News.

Mayor Steve Adler, who is a voting member on the council, said in a statement that Austin had chosen to take “action to address challenges people are facing as a result of State and Federal laws that make it difficult for families seeking an abortion.”

“This budget amendment will help ensure Austinites can make the best choices for themselves and their families,” Adler said. 

Just days before the amendment’s passage, a new state law ― Senate Bill 22 ― went into effect that prohibits local and state governments from using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion providers and their affiliates.

Supporters said Austin’s budget amendment does not conflict with SB22 because the city funds will not be made available to abortion providers.

Amanda Williams of the Lilith Fund, a Texas-based organization that funds abortions and advocates for reproductive equity, described the amendment as a “really creative way to meet some very serious unmet needs.” 

But opponents of the measure have accused the city of pulling a “political stunt” and violating the “spirit of the law.” 

Donna Campbell, the Republican state senator who was the primary author of SB22, told the Texas Tribune that she wasn’t “surprised the City of Austin would manipulate [the law] to use taxpayer dollars to pay for transportation and lodging to those seeking an abortion.”

John Seago of Texas Right To Life, a group that opposes abortions, said the city council ensured it was compliant with SB22, but “the spirit of the law is that we’re not going to spend taxpayer dollars to support the abortion industry,” CNN reported.  

Texas is one of several Republican-led states that have in recent years sought to make abortion almost inaccessible. 

After Texas legislators gutted family planning funding in 2011, dozens of reproductive health clinics closed. Only about 20 clinics offering abortion continue to exist in the state, according to a February study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a team that includes researchers from the University of Texas at Austin. 

About 900,000 women of reproductive age in Texas currently live more than 150 miles from the nearest abortion clinic, the study said. 

Pregnant women in Texas need to visit an abortion clinic twice before they’re able to undergo the procedure. Texas law also prohibits private insurance from covering abortion care. 

“Every day the anti-abortion elements in Texas, in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, wake up and think, ‘How can we restrict access to abortion today.’ That makes it our job, every day, to work to expand access to abortion and health care and other basic services related to abortion,” Greg Casar, an Austin City Council member who co-sponsored the budget amendment, told NBC News.

As the network noted, Austin is the latest in a string of progressive cities and states that have sought to create a safer space for women seeking abortions as lawmakers attempt to crack down on the procedure. 

In June, New York became the first city to allocate funds specifically for women to obtain abortions, including those who traveled from out of state for the procedure.

That same month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a sweeping abortion rights bill into law, establishing the procedure as a “fundamental right” for women in the state. And in April, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution enshrines a woman’s right to an abortion.

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