Austin Poised to Become First Texas City to Fund Abortion Support

Style Magazine Newswire | 9/13/2019, 12:46 p.m.

By James Russell/NextCity.org

During her first campaign for a southeastern Austin City Council district, Delia Garza knew she faced challenges. “It’s 70 percent Hispanic and families live on half the income as the rest of the city,” Garza who is now mayor pro tem, says. “I was committed to improving the quality of life here.”

She also learned her district has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in the district. Improving quality of life meant integrating public health initiatives into her agenda.

As the council ramps up discussions this summer ahead of finalizing their 2020 budget, representatives from three organizations approached her and other councilmembers with another idea: Fund abortion access.

The three groups –– NARAL Pro Choice Texas, one of the state’s largest advocacy organizations for reproductive healthcare, the Lilith Fund and Fund Texas Choice, which fund ancillary expenses for women seeking abortions –– requested a portion of the city’s $4.2 billion budget for funding logistical access to abortions.

Garza was on board.

Councilmembers were already discussing ways to respond to recent state bans on abortion after 8 weeks. In the past, councilmembers have boycotted city-funded travel to those states, she was concerned with its impact on the tourism industry, which employs working families.

This response falls in line with her values –– and campaign promises.

“Addressing an issue like abortion access is part of what I have backed in the past –– addressing issues of health equity proactively,” she says.

If approved on Tuesday, $150,000 of the $4.2 billion budget will be allocated to the city’s public health department to fund expenses such as travel, childcare and lodging for Austinites seeking abortions.

“Texas has been at the forefront of the abortion rights fight. The state doesn’t allow private insurance to fund procedures,” says Delma Limones, NARAL Texas’ communications manager, and the federal Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion. That means a patient could pay anywhere from $400 to $850 out of pocket, according to Jane’s Due Process, a legal nonprofit. After House Bill 2 — the massive bill restricting abortions which catapulted former state Sen. Wendy Davis to fame for her filibuster of it — went into effect in 2013, abortion access became even more crucial across the state.

The bill banned abortions after 20 weeks except for a very narrow exemption if a woman’s health is in danger, requires a patient undergo an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before going through the procedure.

That means taking time off work, finding childcare and paying to travel. While some clinics in Austin still provide abortions, many women travel hundreds of miles, and even out of state, to get the procedure.

“With the new restrictions, the need has increased, as have the number of funds,” Limones says. “With this funding, the city is providing practical support by lifting the barriers currently in place.”

If approved, Austin will be the first city in Texas to provide financial assistance for abortion logistics, and the second in the nation. Earlier this summer New York City allocated $250,000 to help women from in and out of state seek abortion care.