Austin became the first city in the nation Tuesday to approve public funding to help women better access abortion.
The Austin City Council on Tuesday amended next year's budget and set aside $150,000 to supplement incidental expenses like travel, lodging and childcare for women seeking the procedure. The money will not go directly toward the expense of the procedure itself.
The amendment comes just days after a new state law prohibiting local and state governments from giving taxpayer dollars and some public resources to abortion providers and their affiliates went into effect. Senate Bill 22 was partially a legislative reaction to Planned Parenthood's $1-per-year lease for its East Austin clinic, which abortion opponents called a “sweetheart rent deal” with the city.
“It is appalling the city of Austin doubled-down on its policies to ‘save the trees, kill the children,’" said Nicole Hudgens, policy director at the anti-abortion group Texas Values.
The council's move almost immediately garnered national headlines. Hudgens called the amendment a "political stunt attempting to circumvent the law." She said if the city wants to help women they should lower taxes.
Sen. Donna Campbell said in an email, "I'm not surprised The City of Austin would manipulate a recently passed law (SB 22) to use taxpayer dollars to pay for transportation and lodging to those seeking an abortion."
In an August statement, Campbell, primary author of SB 22, said the proposed city budget, "... defiantly violates the spirit of Senate Bill 22, if not an outright violation against the law," which took effect on Sept. 1.
"I will be working with the Attorney General's Office on this issue," Campbell said.
Aimee Arrambide, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said the funding isn't a response to SB 22, rather a creative way for Austin to make sure its community has access to abortion healthcare.
"It's more a direct response to the combination of abortion bans that have been passed throughout the year and the abortion bans sweeping the country rather than being a direct result of SB 22," Arrambide said.
The City Council worked with Arrambide and other leaders of abortion-rights organizations following abortion bans in states including Georgia and Alabama. The coalition suggested funding incidental costs through organizations who help women gain access to the procedure since it doesn't interfere with state laws.
“I don’t make decisions based on what the Legislature wants, I make decisions based on what our community needs," said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who led the amendment along with Council Member Gregorio Casar.
Restrictions on access to reproductive health care, including abortion, most affect women from marginalized communities who bear the greatest burden in terms of out-of-pocket costs, taking time off work and transportation to multiple appointments, Garza said. She described abortion as an equity issue that directly affects constituents in her majority Latino and lower-income Southeast Austin district.
"People assume that Texans don't support abortion access, but that's not the case," Arrambide said. "Texans do support abortion access and have since the decision of Roe. v Wade."
But the council's move drew a lawsuit from former council member Don Zimmerman on Wednesday. His suit against the city and abortion-rights groups says the budget amendment violates a Texas statute that imposes criminal liability on anyone who “furnishes the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended.”
In a statement, Casar said, “I didn’t know if I was reading a lawsuit or if it was a satire piece in The Onion. The lawsuit reads like Zimmerman just stepped out of a misogynist time machine, and he doesn’t realize that things like abortion, interracial marriage, and birth control are suddenly all legal now.”
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