San Antonio Taxpayers To Foot Bill for Abortion Travel
The move is the latest in a series of actions by Democratic-led cities pushing back against laws passed in Republican states since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision.
The next front in the abortion battle is likely to be over the legality of Democratic-led cities in Republican states funding travel for pregnant women in their jurisdictions to get out-of-state abortions.
That is the outlook after the latest news from San Antonio’s city council, which voted in a contentious meeting Thursday to pass a budget that includes $500,000 for a “reproductive justice fund” to pay for abortion travel, funded by the city’s taxpayers.
The move, the latest in a series of actions by cities pushing back after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, is sparking debate over how cities respond to state abortion laws passed since Roe v. Wade was struck down last year. Texas abortion law prohibits abortions from the moment of conception, with exceptions for life-threatening or complicated conditions.
Advocates say they are fighting for women’s health care, while opponents say the cities are going against the will of state legislatures and the people they represent.
“This cannot be about my personal beliefs about abortion and it can’t be about your personal beliefs about abortion,” one council member, Marc Whyte, said during Thursday’s public meeting. “This has to be about what is the appropriate way to use the San Antonio residents’ hard-earned money.”
Mr. Whyte said he was ready to support the budget until the reproductive amendment was added “at the 11th hour,” which was “prompted by some far left-wing groups.”
“It is clear this money is designed to go to fund abortion access,” Mr. Whyte said. “I will always stand for life, no matter the time or the place.”
Council members Teri Castillo and Manny Pelaez expressed concern that too much attention would be given to the fund, which is a small fraction of the city’s $3.7 billion budget.
“I’m a bit disappointed with the divisive rhetoric that I’m hearing,” Ms. Castillo said, arguing that the money would be used to help women in the city receive reproductive health care.
The fund would create “access points” to resources like pregnancy tests, emergency contraception, and menstruation products, as well as helping provide travel out of state for abortions, according to the founder of Sueños Sin Fronteras, Laura Molinar, who helped lead the initiative.
The fund would provide support to those “disproportionately impacted by the harsh and barbaric restrictions that the state has put on reproductive rights,” Ms. Molinar tells the Sun. “Our aim is to improve health and healing outcomes for undocumented, pregnant, birthing, and postpartum folks, people, and their families, and we do that through direct support, education, and advocacy.”
Using funds for out-of-state abortion travel in Texas is legal, Ms. Molinar says, citing a February ruling by a U.S. district court judge, Robert Pitman, that the state can’t regulate abortion outside its borders by prosecuting over travel funds.
In the wake of the Dobbs decision, states and cities are grappling with how to handle abortion measures at the local level. A city that goes against state abortion policies could expose itself to legal action if someone pursues a civil lawsuit, the Texas Values director of policy, Jonathan Covey, tells the Sun.
The fund “puts the city at risk of civil liability because we passed the heartbeat law, Senate Bill 8, last session, and it talks about anyone who ‘aids or abets in an abortion,’ allows individuals to bring civil lawsuits, and it also rejects the guidance of the state legislature,” Mr. Covey says. “So, I mean, surely the people of San Antonio deserve better than this?”
Texas legislators almost passed House Bill 61 last session, Mr. Covey notes, which would have banned taxpayer funds from being any logistical support, including travel, for abortions.
“I suspect that that’s going to be brought back again next session,” Mr. Covey says, “so any city that makes an effort to follow this example or do this probably very soon will be running into some major state laws that prohibit it.”