There’s only so much that Austin (or any other Texas city) can do to protect abortion rights

I appreciate this, I really do, but it’s important to remember that it can only ever be a band-aid, and very likely a temporary one.

The city of Austin is attempting to shield its residents from prosecution under a Texas law that would criminalize almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned — the first push by a major city in a red state to try to circumvent state abortion policy.

Councilmember Chito Vela is proposing a resolution that would direct the city’s police department to make criminal enforcement, arrest and investigation of abortions its lowest priority and restrict city funds and city staff from being used to investigate, catalogue or report suspected abortions.

“This is not an academic conversation. This is a very real conversation where people’s lives could be destroyed by these criminal prosecutions,” said Vela, who shared the details of the resolution first with POLITICO. “In Texas, you’re an adult at 17. We are looking at the prospect of a 17-year-old girl who has an unplanned pregnancy and is seeking an abortion [being] subjected to first-degree felony charges — up to 99 years in jail — and that’s just absolutely unacceptable.”


The new resolution doesn’t explicitly decriminalize abortion but rather directs police to make it their lowest enforcement priority in an effort to skirt conflict with state law, Vela said. But it highlights the tension between red state and the blue cities, where a new front in the battle over abortion rights is opening as the Supreme Court prepares to issue a decision on Roe in the coming weeks.

A city of Austin spokesperson said in a statement that “the city is prepared to take the steps necessary to implement this resolution upon passage by City Council.” The council passed a similar measure in 2020 that effectively decriminalized marijuana by ending arrests and fines for low-level possession, which the police department has followed.

Vela said he is having “ongoing conversations” with Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon about the proposal and hopes the department will comply with the directive. A department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

“The police do not want to be in the middle of this controversy. The police right now in Austin are struggling with staffing,” Vela said. “I don’t think the police want to dedicate resources to these types of, what I would call, ‘political crimes.’”

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Ken Paxton did not respond to a request for comment. Paxton, a Republican, has been at the vanguard of restricting abortion access in Texas, which has been in the spotlight since the state’s six-week abortion ban, enforced through a private right of action, took effect in September 2021.

Austin’s proposal, which aims to protect both patients and providers, comes as an extension of the city’s efforts to preserve abortion access despite the state’s restrictions. The city has, for instance, provided logistical support for abortion access, including transportation, lodging and child care, since 2019 — a model St. Louis is now looking to replicate.

More cities in Texas could be next. Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, a group that pushes for progressive, local ballot measures, said they are looking at pushing similar measures in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. If that isn’t successful, the group plans to turn to the local ballot initiative process.

“Home rule charter cities have a tremendous amount of leeway and self-governance, and part of that is deciding which laws you’re going to prioritize,” Oliver said. “And so, because you have a finite number of resources in a finite budget, cities are constantly deciding which laws they’re going to enforce and which ones they are not.”

I support the idea and I love the creativity, as we have discussed what progressive cities can do to protect abortion rights. That includes proactive measures to thwart prosecution, which is very much in a city’s purview. The problem with this approach is simply that as long as the state is run by Republicans, they will pass laws to prevent cities from taking these measures and will punish them for even trying. I’m sure I don’t have to recite to you the long list of attacks on local control lately, but we have already seen reporting to say that the Briscoe Cain uterus-invasion caucus will file bills in 2023 to allow other counties to pursue prosecution of anyone who violates the new forced-birth laws if the local DA refuses. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine state troopers being given the authority to investigate these claims, which I’d bet will come with a bunch of money to hire more staff specifically for that purpose. I’m sure there will be more private vigilante bounties included as well, to help fund the effort. If recent history is any indicator, they will go much farther than anything Austin tries to do, to send a clear message that they will not tolerate any dissent. Do we really want to test that hypothesis?

Please note that I am not saying that any action on our part is pointless and we should just give up. Not at all! I am just saying – again, and again, and again – that we need to win some statewide elections. The Republicans can only do this as long as they are in control, and they will only be incentivized to do this as long as they perceive there’s no price to pay for it. The antidote for that is obvious. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m certainly not saying that this will be an opportune year to do it. I’m just saying that as clever and well-intentioned as these ideas sound, they’re sand castles against the tide. The problem is bigger than anything a city can do. We have to solve it at that level if we want to get anywhere. Reform Austin, KVUE, and Daily Kos have more.

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5 Responses to There’s only so much that Austin (or any other Texas city) can do to protect abortion rights

  1. Joel says:

    “If recent history is any indicator, they will go much farther than anything Austin tries to do, to send a clear message that they will not tolerate any dissent. Do we really want to test that hypothesis?

    Please note that I am not saying that any action on our part is pointless and we should just give up. Not at all! I am just saying – again, and again, and again – that we need to win some statewide elections. ”

    since (a) is a thing we can do in Austin, and (b) isn’t a thing we can do, well …

  2. policywonqueria says:


    What you should do is promote better contraception and thereby reduce the “need” for abortion both at the individual and aggregate level. Focus on problem prevention, to the extent contributing to the long-term survival of the relevant community, i.e. generational replacement, can be perceived as a problem. Much better chances of effectiveness and real-life impact than, say, grand plans for preventing mass shootings, what with the amount of mass-killing tools already in circulation.

    If all the Tex-Dems have to offer on the statewide campaign trail is homunculus-on-a-coat-hanger, they will not be majority-capable and will remain non-viable. Abortionism just isn’t a winning proposition in Texas. Hasn’t that been demonstrated ably and sufficiently by Wendy Davis?

    And where is Beto’s plan for a better, smarter, and more reliable grid? Where is the comprehensive strategy for the state?

    Inveighing against oil & gas oligarchs may be a good sport, and earn a bit of thundering applause at some rally perhaps even, but how does it move us forward toward a more secure electricity supply?

  3. Leonard says:

    From Beto’s website “ In addition to restoring women’s freedom to choose, we will fully fund family planning services and launch an aggressive initiative to combat this state’s maternal mortality crisis, including by expanding Medicaid eligibility to help more women see a doctor and by increasing Medicaid coverage for pregnant women to at least one year postpartum.”

    And “Fully weatherize the grid: We’re going to update our aging and crumbling energy infrastructure so that it can withstand extreme temperatures. This includes the natural gas supply, which froze during last February’s winter storm and cut off power to millions of Texans.

    Connect Texas to the national grid: This will allow Texas to draw down power from other states during emergencies—and during normal times, it’ll also allow us to bring in billions of dollars in new state revenue by exporting excess power generation.

    Take the lead on energy expansion: We will make Texas more energy independent, boost the resiliency of the grid, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and ensure Texas remains the global energy leader for generations to come by investing in more wind and solar, taking the lead on new energy sources like geothermal and hydrogen, and building out more transmission and storage.

    Expand energy efficiency programs: Unlike other states, Texas has failed to lead a meaningful energy efficiency program to reduce demand on our grid. When I’m governor, we’ll launch an aggressive program to update insulation in Texas homes and businesses and help Texans acquire more efficient heating and cooling systems. Beyond drawing down less power from the grid, this will create jobs and dramatically lower Texans’ energy bills.

    Provide energy bill relief: We’re going to put an end to The Abbott Tax by clawing back the illegal profits that Abbott’s wealthy donors made during the winter storm and returning that money back to Texans in the form of energy bill relief.

    Prevent energy corporations from price gouging: Gas supply CEOs have donated millions of dollars to Abbott’s campaigns so that he won’t prevent them from price gouging Texans. When I’m governor, we’ll put an end to the corruption and implement an Independent Market Monitor to prevent energy corporations from making illegal profits off the backs of Texas families.”

  4. C.L. says:

    I’m guessing geothermal power generation in the State of Texas may be a bit of a long shot, Beto.

  5. Leonard says:

    Lol. In contrast, Abbott has nothing in his issues list about contraception or fixing the grid – and why would he? He already fixed the grid.

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