U.S. district judge moves to protect abortion funds from criminal charges over out-of-state abortion aid

Tess Harmon, General News Reporter

U.S. district judge Robert Pitman issued a ruling on Feb. 24 that temporarily blocks prosecution against abortion funds for helping women obtain out-of-state abortions.

Abortion funds are non-profit organizations that help women access abortions by providing them with financial assistance. After the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act in May 2021, a bill banning abortions in Texas at around six weeks of pregnancy, many Texas-based abortion funds pivoted to helping women acquire out-of-state abortions. However, since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they have ceased this practice due to concerns of prosecutions from the state.

Pitman’s ruling temporarily protects abortion funds from criminalization and charges from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and others, although it is unclear when funds could resume funding for out-of-state abortions. Cristina Parker, communications director at the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, an Austin-based fund that stopped funding abortions after the reversal of Roe, said she views the ruling as a victory.

“It opens the door for us to be able to fund abortion out of state again,” Parker said. “It’s not something we’re able to do just right away, we’ve got a lot to figure out … but (Pitman) was pretty clear … that he does not think that the attorney general or local prosecutors can prosecute us for abortions that are obtained out of state. It’s very good news.”

The ruling may further ease financial stress on Texans seeking abortions as well. According to Kari White, principal investigator of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a group who studies reproductive health-related legislation, travel costs are the most common concern for pregnant Texans looking to obtain an out-of-state abortion.

“Out-of-state abortion care remains important for pregnant Texans who prefer in-person, clinician-provided care or who need this care because they cannot use medication abortion pills to end their pregnancy,” White said in an email. 

However, the options available to pregnant Texans are not always clear. Sofia Feltwell, president of Students 4 Planned Parenthood, said Texas legislation makes it difficult to support and discuss available resources, but Judge Pitman’s ruling is a “great step forward.” 

“I think for UT students, as well as other students across Texas, (the ruling) means better access to abortion and to the reproductive health care that they need through these abortion funds and going out of state,” psychology senior Feltwell said.  

Judge Pitman’s office declined to comment on ongoing litigation.