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Austin could protect abortion rights if SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade

A resolution could be submitted for full council review “within hours” after the Supreme Court issues a ruling on Roe v. Wade.

AUSTIN, Texas — If the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overturns Roe v. Wade, the Austin City Council appears to be on track to protect abortion rights in the Capital City.

A measure by Councilmember Chito Vela, first reported by Politico, would direct the Austin Police Department to make criminal enforcement, arrests and investigations of abortions “its lowest priority” and block the use of City staff or money from investigating or reporting suspected abortions, a spokesperson for Vela confirmed to KVUE.

“Abortion must be decriminalized,” Vela wrote on Twitter.

The measure – which is being called the GRACE Act, or Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone – would not be submitted for full council consideration until after the SCOTUS decision is issued, the spokesperson said. It could come “within hours” of the ruling.

The council only has two meetings scheduled in June before a brief summer break until July 28, but it's possible the measure could come up for consideration during a special meeting if the SCOTUS decision comes after the two June meetings.

“The timing is designed so we can craft the best possible response to the final decision, which may have legal specifics contained in it that will affect the wording of the resolution,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “The Texas trigger ban is implemented exactly 30 days after the decision is published, and CM Vela [and] his co-sponsors are eager to get protections in place as fast as possible to minimize the effect on Austin residents.”

Community stakeholders are still reviewing the draft measure, the spokesperson for Vela said.

Councilmembers Vanessa Fuentes and Paige Ellis are expected to be co-sponsors of the resolution. 

"What we're really trying to do is to preemptively and proactively protect Austinites, especially when it comes to their reproductive choices," Fuentes said. "What we're seeing time and time again, especially being in a city where we are subjected to state overreach – we're seeing national entities chip away at our reproductive rights – is that it's on local communities, local leaders to step up and to add protections. And Austin has continued to make that commitment very loud and clear that we will be here for us ... when it comes to reproductive health."

The Texas trigger law, passed by the Legislature in 2021, would completely ban abortions 30 days after SCOTUS issues a ruling, making no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. The only protection would be for a pregnant person whose life is in danger or who is at the risk serious impairment if the pregnancy is carried to term.

If an unborn child dies, violators could be charged with a first-degree felony and face up to a $100,000 fine.

"We want to make sure that our police spend their precious time investigating high-level violent crime and not abortion. This is a low-level, low-tier priority right here in Austin," Fuentes said. "We've got to make sure that we are being judicious in how we spend our City resources and City time."

According to Politico’s report, Austin is the first major city in a Republican-led state to try to circumvent the state’s abortion policy.

Fuentes said the resolution would not supersede state law. The City's legal team has reviewed it to ensure compliance with state law, and she said it's written in a way that would "stand up in court if needed." 

KVUE reached out to the City of Austin about this measure and received the following statement:

“The City is prepared to take the steps necessary to implement this resolution upon passage by City Council.”

KVUE has also reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott's office, but we have not received a response.

Bryce Newberry on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

KVUE on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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