AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

How Are Texas Officials Responding to the End of ‘Roe’?

“Austin will, to the best of its ability, do all we can to protect our values and our people.”

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After the United States Supreme Court gutted protections for abortion access this morning by reversing Roe v. Wade, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made the state’s position clear: Residents must quash any hope of legal abortion in the state.

“I look forward to defending the pro-life laws of Texas and the lives of all unborn children moving forward,” Paxton said in a statement. In celebration of the court decision, Paxton gave all employees in the Office of the Attorney General a half-day off of work, according to an internal email.

“Attorney General Paxton and the entire Executive Leadership Team wish you and your families a safe and enjoyable ‘Sanctity of Life’ holiday,” reads the email, signed by First Assistant Attorney General of Texas Brent Webster.

But in the state’s capital, city leaders are already working to decriminalize abortion locally. Immediately after the decision, two Austin City Council members—Jose “Chito” Vela and Vanessa Fuentes—called for a special meeting to push forward a resolution that would recommend city funds not be used to “surveil, catalog, report, or investigate abortion” and would direct the police to make abortion investigations “their lowest priority.” The resolution, known as the Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone (GRACE) Act, was authored by Councilmember Chito Vela.

“We want to do everything we can to protect abortion rights,” Vela told the Observer. “I think that the GRACE package is designed to use our discretion in a way that hopefully will not come into direct conflict with the state. We’re just doing the best we can given the difficult circumstances.”

The measure has been in the works since the draft opinion of the court’s decision was leaked in May, Vela said. The date of the special meeting has not yet been set, but Vela said city leaders hope to have it within the next 30 days, before the trigger laws take effect. Vela said Austin leaders have been in talks with other cities that may want to pass similar measures, including Denton

Austin’s measure is co-sponsored by several council members, as well as Mayor Steve Adler. 

“It is tragic that women have lost the human right to make their own healthcare choices, including as to abortion,” Adler wrote in a statement. “With this opinion, the Supreme Court puts women and so many others at risk and in danger. Austin will, to the best of its ability, do all we can to protect our values and our people.”

Austin’s mayor isn’t the only major city leader entering the fray. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared today “a sad day across America,” urging liberal residents to “show up at the ballot box.” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweeted that the ruling was “an attack on the health and independence of women, people of color and the disadvantaged. Access to health care, including abortion, is a human right.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweets: Today's SCOTUS ruling is an attack on the health and independence of women, people of color and the disadvantaged. Access to health care, including abortion, is a human right.  Criminalizing those who seek basic care will create a hostile and harmful future for far too many.

The District Attorney for Travis County, which includes Austin, Jose Garza suggested he will not abide by Texas’s trigger laws, which will make all abortion illegal in Texas in 30 days. “I will not force women into the shadows, especially when they need life-saving medical care. No matter what the law says, I implore you: please, seek medical help if you need it,” he said in a statement. Garza was one of five district attorneys who earlier vowed not to prosecute abortions. District attorneys from Dallas County, Bexar County, Nueces County, and Fort Bend County also made the pledge

Since this morning’s decision, other district attorneys have made similar statements. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who oversees the Houston area, didn’t go so far as to say the office would decline to enforce the trigger law but stated, “prosecutors and police have no role in matters between doctors and patients. As in every case, we will evaluate the facts and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.”

Throughout the state, liberal politicians and leaders are trying to shout above the conservative victory cries. 

Beto O’Rourke parlayed the news into a campaign plea for his race against Governor Greg Abbott. ​​“If you care about protecting a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions about her own body, health care, and future, join this campaign and help us win,” he said in a statement. He also announced that he’d be holding a rally for reproductive rights this Sunday in Austin. 

Democratic Attorney General Candidate Rochelle Garza noted in her statement that Texas’s restrictive trigger laws “will disproportionately impact women of color, people living in poverty, and rural communities,” vowing to restore access to abortion in Texas if elected. 

In the aftermath of the decision, Abbott referred to Texas as a “pro-life state.” But liberal leaders suggest to their constituents that there may be a way around the state’s restrictions—a faint glimmer of hope for Texans who need access to abortion.