Vowing to fight back against Texas Republicans ahead of a statewide abortion ban, the Austin City Council has asked the city’s Police Department to ignore the law by refusing to investigate any medical provider who terminates a pregnancy.
Additionally, the council amended a city ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on reproductive health action and asked the city manager to launch a public education program on long-term birth control, including vasectomies for men. They also asked the city manager to evaluate benefits to city employees seeking reproductive health care that is no longer lawful in Texas.
“We are sending the message we will continue to fight for reproductive freedom,” Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said.
The Thursday vote — in a special called meeting that brought council members back a week early from their summer council meeting break — follows last month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which had allowed a nationwide protection for abortion and comes days before a near-total abortion ban takes effect in Texas.
The City Council’s initiative is known as the GRACE Act — Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone. It was first proposed weeks ago by Council Member Chito Vela.
This action will play well with Austin Democrats but also is likely to escalate an ongoing feud between the City Council and Texas Republican leaders, political opponents who have long quarreled over everything from policing to tent encampments to grocery bags. More times than not, the state has come out on the winning side, often crafting a statewide law to cancel an action by Austin.
But if that happens, Austin could have allies in other Texas cities. Denton passed a similar measure aimed at discouraging prosecutions related to abortions, and four other cities — San Antonio, Waco, Dallas and Grand Prairie — are in various stages of discussion. El Paso has rejected it.
In Austin, there is an argument to be made that it was unnecessary to ask police not to investigate abortions, because Travis County District Attorney José Garza, an elected Democrat who has discretion over which cases to pursue, has previously said his office will not prosecute abortions.
Flanked at City Hall by several Texas House Democrats, several City Council members said they are prepared to use any method available to them to protect a woman’s ability to get an abortion. The same holds true, they said, for laws that protect same-sex couples and transgender people.
“I never thought we’d be in this place,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said.
Texas House Democrats in attendance were Sheryl Cole, Gina Hinojosa, James Talarico and Celia Israel, as well as Lulu Flores, the Democratic nominee in House District 51.
“We are awoke, our claws are out, and we’re ready to fight,” said Israel, who is leaving her seat to run for Austin mayor in November.
More:Could abortion ban tarnish Texas’ business-friendly image?
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a message left seeking comment.
The Police Department said it is reviewing the council’s decision: “We are working through the resolution and we’ll present next time when we come back to council.”
Thursday’s council vote on the abortion-related resolution is more of a recommendation than a directive, as the Police Department has no legal obligation to accept orders from the council.
All four items passed 10-0, but with a notable absence. Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, the council’s most conservative member, said she underwent surgery Thursday and that the procedure had been scheduled before the meeting. While voting for these measures was a no-brainer for left-leaning council members, the same would not have been true for Kelly, who has Republican supporters in her Northwest Austin district who are more likely to oppose abortion rights than the average Austin resident.
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