City Council Redirects APD Funds to Abortion Support Access

Photo by John Anderson

Redoubling its unprecedented investment made last year, Austin City Council infused its nascent abortion care practical support program with some $250,000 as part of its historic reallocation of Austin Police Department funds toward health and social service programs.

“This [funding] will help break down the barriers for Austinites trying to access abortion care,” said Lilith Fund Deputy Director Neesha Davé. “In solidarity with our community partners, we demanded the City reallocate funding from APD and reinvest those funds in significant community safety and wellness needs, including abortion access. We celebrate this victory for abortion access, and recognize there is still much work to do to systemically transform how this city makes our communities safer.”

In 2019, the Chronicle first reported on Council’s vote to direct $150,000 to support logistical services for abortion access, the first of its kind in the nation. The money will help assist women accessing abortion care with transportation, lodging, child care, and emotional and doula support. The move came amid rising hostility toward abortion rights – nationally, statewide, and at the municipal level in Texas, where small towns across the state have passed anti-abortion ordinances. The measure is also pushback toward the Texas Legislature’s restrictive abortion laws. State law bans cities from directly funding abortion and laws like SB 22, passed last year, further erode local government’s ability to contract with abortion providers and affiliates.

Contrary to what anti-choice advocates claim, the city funds would not flow to abortion providers or the procedure itself directly.

Last year, anti-choice former Council Member Don Zimmerman sued the city to block the funding, however in December a district court judge ruled against Zimmerman and he is now appealing the case at the 8th Circuit. This June, anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life also sued the city (in a now pending case) arguing in a wide stretch of a legal defense that despite U.S. Supreme Court precedent the funding was illegal because anti-abortion laws have never actually been scrapped from the state Constitution.

Contrary to what anti-choice advocates claim, the city funds would not flow to abortion providers or the procedure itself directly, rather they will go through the Austin Public Health department, which will disburse the money to an organization that does not perform abortion but helps women obtain care through logistical support. In June, following a competitive bidding process, Council approved a contract with Jane’s Due Process, an organization that assists young people in obtaining abortion care, and Mama Sana Vibrant Woman and Fund Texas Choice as subcontractors.

Within its immediate $23 million cuts to the FY 2021 APD budget – largely resulting from a divestment in cadet classes – Council redirected funds to social services including housing, substance abuse assistance, and workforce development, following calls to invest in public health and safety apart from APD amid police violence and the growing Black Lives Matter movement. Pro-choice advocates and organizations including the Austin Justice Coalition have lobbied for channeling some of those funds to abortion services as barriers to abortion care disproportionately affect low-income women of color. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas collected around 250 petition signatures in favor of the measure.

On Thursday, Council – led by the efforts of members Leslie Pool, Delia Garza, Greg Casar, and Paige Ellis – unanimously increased its abortion support program by $100,000, a victory for pro-choice advocates and a reaffirmation of local commitment to health access continually undermined by state officials.

“We celebrate the continuation and increase in funding for practical support services for people seeking abortion care in Austin. The pandemic has exposed the gaps in our care safety nets, and this funding represents a commitment to make sure every Austinite can access the abortion care they need,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Deputy Director Emily Martin. “These times call for transformational change, and we will continue to stand with our allies in calling for more significant cuts to policing, and investment in programs that keep our communities healthy and safe.”