Sebastian's Point

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Austin City Council Ignores Supreme Court and Life with Special Meeting on Abortion Policies

Mary Elizabeth Castle, J.D.

Senior Policy Advisor

Texas Values   |  15 September 2022

The Austin City Council has made it a tradition to pass public policy initiatives that attempt to negate or reverse pro-life initiatives passed by the Texas Legislature. So, it came as no surprise, that the Austin City Council would take heartless measures to promote abortion politics after the U.S Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in this summer’s Dobbs v. Jackson landmark decision. The Austin City Council was anxious about the Texas Human Life Protection Act going into effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which would return Texas to statutory law that outlaws abortion in the state and protects the life of the unborn at conception. On July 21, the Austin City Council held a special meeting on abortion. The objective of the special meeting was to pass four separate policies: an ordinance stating civil rights for reproductive health choices, a resolution known as the “GRACE Act”, and two remaining resolutions that do the opposite of supporting and sustaining life. As a resident of Austin and policy analyst, I testified alongside pro-life organizations such as Students for Life, Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Right to Life, and Human Coalition Action. In addition to holding a rally and protest before the meeting, pro-life Austinites proved the policies the Austin City Council planned to propose were not representative of all Austin residents.

 

The first item on the agenda was an ordinance that purports to prevent discrimination against women who choose to have an abortion or for people involved in the “provision” of an abortion.[1] The first item was most likely easy to pass as a city ordinance as it does not directly contradict any pro-life law. In fact, the ordinance does not address any sentiment expressed within the pro-life community. The pro-life community and members of the movement are known for their empathy towards post-abortive women and face the reality that women they assist may have had an abortion before seeking help at a pro-life pregnancy resource center. So, it seems absurd that the Austin City Council seems to suggest that a woman who has received an abortion would be denied the opportunity to buy a house, rent an apartment, or be denied a job. It’s possible that Austin City Council does not believe its own claims. No examples were given during the meeting that any woman was turned away from renting an apartment or fired from her job due to her obtaining an abortion.

 

Any person familiar with civil rights law can look at the ordinance and identify a hidden agenda. The term “reproductive health action” is added to all codes and laws where race, color, religion, disability, and age are listed as protected classes from discrimination.[2] There is doubtfully any legal ground for making a woman who seeks or performs an abortion a protected class under civil rights laws. The purpose of civil rights laws is to protect against discrimination based on immutable characteristics, like race, and not on one’s actions. Austin City Council’s lawyers possibly understand this, but the Austin public may not understand this nuance. Austin is playing the political game where they persuade people that women who seek or preform an abortion are discriminated against. This argument is false but tugs at the heartstrings of every person. Again, Austin City Council plays the game of political posturing in their policy.

 

The second item on the agenda was the notorious “GRACE Act”, authored by Councilmember Chito Vela. GRACE is an acronym for Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone. Austin City Council members had big plans for the GRACE Act to serve as a model resolution to be passed in major cities across the state of Texas.  According to an advocacy group called Local Progress, five Texas cities had adopted the GRACE Act resolution as of August 25, the date that the Human Life Protection Act went into effect. Those cities were: Denton, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso County, and Dallas.[3]  The key goal of the GRACE Act is to essentially “decriminalize” abortion. The policy would achieve this by ensuring city funds would not be used to store or catalog information about an abortion, report to a governmental agency that an abortion has taken place, or collect information on whether an abortion has occurred.[4] The ultimate goal of the policy is to make sure that city attorneys and other law enforcement personnel put prosecuting abortion as the lowest priority for law enforcement. In other words, the GRACE Act is a clever way for the city of Austin to ignore that abortion is a criminal act under the Human Life Protection Act.  It is doubtful that passing a policy to directly disobey a state law is legal. What is even more alarming is the fact that Mayor Steve Adler stated in the meeting and at a later press conference that abortion is a constitutional right. Clearly, the Austin City Council does not simply ignore jurisprudence, they have no knowledge of the law or that the Dobbs ruling settled that there is no constitutional right to abortion.

 

The remaining two items on the agenda for the special meeting on abortion included an education program and funding for vasectomies as a form of “long-term birth control”,[5] and a budget allocation to help women obtain abortions out of the state. The resolution on using city funds to help women obtain abortions is legally questionable. Even Mayor Steve Adler commented at the beginning of the meeting that he doubted the action would even be legal. Mayor Adler should know the answer. The City of Austin was sued fairly recently for using taxpayer dollars to fund Jane’s Due Process in violation of a 2019 Texas law that prohibits taxpayer dollars from going to abortion providers.[6] Ever since 2019, Texas Values has appeared at the Austin City Council to remind them of the law that prohibits their attempts to fund abortion. Yet the Austin City Council continues to find ways to fund abortion-related “services” such as legal assistance, transportation, and even gift baskets for women seeking an abortion.

 

The Austin City Council unanimously voted, with one member absent, for all four policies in their special meeting on abortion and celebrated with a large press conference afterward. The good news is that they lost when it came to public opinion. While a few pro-abortion citizens testified by phone, those Austinites were outnumbered by the pro-life citizens who showed up to testify against these policies.

 

The most compelling testimony was from an Austin woman who has operated the pro-life maternity home, Breath of Life Maternity Ministries for 22 years in the city. The woman said in the 22 years of operating Breath of Life, the Austin City Council has never addressed in the agenda (or in the budget) supporting her maternity home. While the 10-member council and mayor have ignored Austin's pro-life voices for years, their vote seemed more pronounced considering the testimony that day. Austin is typically contrarian in its politics when it comes to the life issue. However, with five other cities adopting the GRACE Act, Texans need to stay alert to these pro-abortion policies coming to their city.

 

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[1] Austin, Tex. Ordinance No. 20220721-001.(2022) https://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=389093

[2] Id.

[3] Unknown, As Trigger Law Goes Into Effect, Five Texas Localities Have Moved to Prevent the Criminalization of Abortion, Local Progress (August 25, 2022) https://localprogress.org/2022/08/25/as-trigger-law-goes-into-effect-five-texas-localities-have-moved-to-prevent-the-criminalization-of-abortion/.

[4] Austin, Tex. Resolution No. 20220721-002, https://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=389094 .

[5]  Austin, Tex. Resolution No. 20220721-003, https://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=389095.

[6] Zimmerman v. City of Austin, No. 21-0262, (Tex. July 2, 2021).