RSN Fundraising Banner
Cities Push Back on Abortion Restrictions
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=51714"><span class="small">Trevor Bach, U.S. News</span></a>   
Saturday, 28 September 2019 08:15

Bach writes: "On Sept. 10, the City Council in Austin, Texas, met to approve the city's next budget, greenlighting funding for 30 new police officers, sidewalk improvements and wildfire mitigation."

Pro-choice activists rally in support of Planned Parenthood. (photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Pro-choice activists rally in support of Planned Parenthood. (photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Cities Push Back on Abortion Restrictions

By Trevor Bach, U.S. News

28 September 19

Austin, Texas, is the latest municipality to challenge restrictive abortion laws. Will other cities follow suit?

n Sept. 10, the City Council in Austin, Texas, met to approve the city's next budget, greenlighting funding for 30 new police officers, sidewalk improvements and wildfire mitigation. The council also approved $150,000 to help local women with abortion access costs like childcare and transportation – a move that made history, establishing Austin as the first city in the country to dedicate funding for ancillary costs related to the medical procedure.

"This is just the beginning," Paige Ellis, a councilwoman who co-sponsored the amendment, told the Austin American Statesman. "We hope to lead by example as we have done on many other issues."

Abortion access is under increasing threat across the country, including in Texas, where a law that took effect Sept. 1 bans local governments from giving money to organizations that provide abortions. Reproductive rights advocates are hoping the Austin decision inspires other cities to take action to protect abortion access.

"Our best hope and dream for this would be that it really spreads like wildfire," says Cristina Parker, communications director at the Lilith Fund, a reproductive rights group that advocated for the budget item.

Earlier this year, at least 11 states – Ohio, Utah, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota and Oklahoma – passed bills targeting abortion rights, a political move aimed at drawing legal challenges that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia banned the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, while Missouri passed a ban after eight weeks – still before many women know they're pregnant. In May, Alabama passed the Human Life Protection Act, banning abortion at all stages of pregnancy and with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest and threating doctors who perform abortions with as much as 99 years in prison (the law is set to go into effect in November).

The flurry of anti-abortion laws, none of which have yet to take effect amid court challenges, followed years of state health departments closing clinics by imposing onerous licensing requirements. Six states now have only one clinic that performs abortions, including Missouri, where a St. Louis Planned Parenthood location has been fighting to stay open after the state denied its license in June.

Some states, including New York and Illinois, have passed laws protecting abortion access while one bill recently proposed in California would mandate state universities provide abortion pills.

The result, says Elizabeth Nash, a legal expert at the Guttmacher Institute, is a system where a woman's reproductive health access is increasingly determined by geography. "It's fairly regional, and so then your rights depend on where you live," she says. "And what it looks like in Louisiana is very different than what it looks like in California."

Nash says individial cities have an opportunity to help support abortion rights, whether through direct funding or other measures, like providing security at clinics, where patients are often targeted with threats and intimidation. "There are real openings for localities to work to protect their own citizens," she points out.

Some cities have already taken action. In 2017, St. Louis enacted an abortion "sanctuary city" law, later partially struck down, which prohibited employment and housing discrimination based on reproductive decisions. Earlier this year, the Atlanta City Council passed a resolution declaring its opposition to Georgia's "heartbeat law," which prohibits abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. In June, New York dedicated $250,000 to a fund that helps poor women from out of state obtain abortions in the city, becoming the first city in the country to directly fund abortion. "We heard the news on abortion bans across the country," Council member Carlina Rivera told the New York Times. "Many of us in New York felt helpless. We wanted to do more."

Advocates hailed Austin's budget decision – which provides support for abortion related costs through local nonprofits but doesn't fund abortion directly – as a particularly creative response to an increasingly hostile state climate for reproductive rights.

In 2013 Texas passed House Bill 2 which, among other restrictions, required clinics to reclassify as surgical centers. Half of the state's several dozen clinics ended up closing, leaving rural areas particularly underserved; even after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the law in 2016, most have remained shuttered. This legislative session state lawmakers again targeted abortion rights – one bill proposed potential murder charges for women who receive the procedure – and in June Republican Gov. Greg Abbot signed legislation banning municipalities from contracting with abortion providers.

The measure passed by the Austin City Council – a group made up of seven women and four men – offers a kind of workaround, providing practical support for women who struggle with often overlooked obstacles to the procedure. The budget line was harshly rebuked by anti-abortion groups and Texas officials, including Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the primary author of the earlier legislation banning contracting, who said it "defiantly violates the spirit" of her bill. Austin's ordinance was also challenged almost immediately with a lawsuit.

But advocates like Parker are optimistic: After Austin's budget announcement, she says, women's rights proponents around the city were buzzing. More important, so were proponents around the state, with early chatter of a push for a similar effort in Houston.

"That's the part we're really excited about," she says. "We're sharing this victory and the lessons learned from it with people who are interested in other cities." your social media marketing partner