Austin City Council passes GRACE Act to decriminalize abortion despite statewide ban

Morgan Severson, News Reporter

In a special meeting last Thursday, Austin City Council unanimously passed items supporting access to reproductive healthcare, as well as an act to decriminalize abortion in the city — an effort that directly defies current state law. 

The Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone Act, or the GRACE Act, was proposed by council members José “Chito” Vela and Vanessa Fuentes. It effectively attempts to decriminalize abortion in Austin by preventing the use of city funds to investigate the procedure and making enforcing criminal laws concerning abortions and other reproductive healthcare actions the lowest priority for police. 

“It’s not enough,” Vela said in a press conference after the meeting. “I wish we could do more to protect abortion rights, to protect reproductive rights here in Austin, but I think it’s as much as we can do. We’re trying to protect health. We’re trying to prevent injuries, and we’re trying to make Austin as supportive and safe of a city for abortion rights and for reproductive rights as we possibly can.” 

Vela said other cities in Texas, such as San Antonio and Waco, are currently trying to pass similar acts to decriminalize the procedure at the municipal level. 

“There’s this misconception out there that Texas is some kind of overwhelmingly anti-abortion state, and that’s just not the reality,” Vela said. “Texas has been shaken by what has just happened on (the) Supreme Court, … and we need to push back against that as much as we possibly can.”

Along with the GRACE Act, the meeting’s agenda also included items directing city manager Spencer Cronk to “explore the City’s ability to conduct a public education program on long-term birth control, including vasectomies” and “to evaluate and make recommendations on benefits for City employees to support reasonable access to reproductive health care services that are no longer lawfully available in Texas.” 

Fuentes said the city council’s passage of Thursday’s agenda shows that Austin is a “local government willing to go on the offensive.” 

“Make no mistake, there will be some Texas GOP who will not hesitate to try and delegitimize today’s progress, nor will they stop at our reproductive freedoms,” Fuentes said at the press conference. “They’ve already spent decades chipping away at our most fundamental rights, and they won’t give up so easily. But then again, neither will we.”  

Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, José Garza, Travis County district attorney, said in a press conference that his office will not criminalize personal healthcare decisions. However, Rep. Briscoe Cain is set to introduce a proposal allowing district attorneys from around the state to prosecute in other counties during the next legislative session, according to KUT.   

“Republican leadership in the state of Texas and nationally has demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to play politics with our public safety,” Garza’s office said in an email. “There is no length to which they will not go to score political points.”