SAN ANTONIO — Local health care providers stopped offering abortions last Friday, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state can enforce a 1925 abortion ban.
Blair Wallace, a reproductive freedom policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, said it is still unclear when the state’s trigger law will go into effect, pending ongoing litigation. But abortion providers feel the current landscape is too risky.
When San Antonio abortion rights activist Tori Cruz Ramirez learned the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it ignited an even stronger will to fight back and organize for her city. This month, she and other advocates started calling on San Antonio City Council representatives to pass the Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone (GRACE) Act.
The resolution would block city funds from being used to investigate reports of abortion, while making it the lowest priority for San Antonio Police officers. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Sheriff Javier Salazar both said they would not investigate or prosecute people seeking or performing abortions, but Cruz Ramirez believes it's important to have certainty with written protections.
“We might not have the same DA next year, we might not have the same sheriff next year. So we need to go ahead and have that written, so that no matter who’s in those positions, we’re going to protect people regardless,” said Cruz Ramirez.
On Thursday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg released a statement to KENS 5 saying, in part, “We are evaluating what can be done locally. It’s a confusing landscape with different state laws on the books.”
District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry told KENS 5 in a statement that the council would work with the city attorney’s office to discuss what can and cannot be done at the local level.
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez expressed his full support for the GRACE Act, if the council would consider it. District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo and District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval also said they would support protections for San Antonians seeking abortions.
A new abortion-rights battlefield
“It really boils down to the fact that a city has authority to articulate priorities for their communities and with that comes saying that it is not a priority to follow other things,” Wallace said. “What the city or county decides to do with those resources is up to their full discretion.”
Jon Taylor, chair of the political science department at UTSA, said it’s possible city and county leaders could not only de-emphasize enforcement, but also concentrate law enforcement resources in other areas that are considered higher priorities.
"It (abortion) is in that respect, a low priority, police officers really do have other things to do. At the same time, the other argument would be, 'Well no, law enforcement's supposed to enforce the law, and therefore they should go after (abortion providers)."
Although, Taylor adds, Attorney General Ken Paxton and/or Gov. Greg Abbott could step in.
“(It’s a) fight between state leadership and cities and counties in Texas, essentially; red leadership, blue counties and cities, and that’s kind of what we’re seeing here,” Taylor said.
Taylor believes leaders at the state level would get involved after Texas' trigger law goes into effect, if city or county leaders are not investigating and/or prosecuting abortion cases.
"All of a sudden you’ve got lawsuits, the state supreme court is ordering the district attorney to follow through, most likely that is what’s going to happen," Taylor added. "You could see an attempt of limiting district attorney’s powers regarding what they can and cannot prosecute and what they are supposed to prosecute."
Wallace said she does not know what Paxton would do, saying he is unpredictable. But she still believes protective policies at the local level could instill confidence in their communities.
"We’re really at a moment where it’s all hands on deck, and that means everybody from city council to DAs," she said.
For Cruz Ramirez, that's a bridge to cross if and when the time comes. Regardless, she is committed to continue fighting for abortion rights.
Full responses from San Antonio City Council Members:
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg:
“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. We are evaluating what can be done locally. It’s a confusing landscape with different state laws on the books.”
Councilwoman Teri Castillo, District 5:
“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, despite overwhelming support for legal abortion access, is an attack on a person’s autonomy of their own bodies, lives, and futures. This decision leaves millions of people vulnerable to criminalization for accessing healthcare. Access to healthcare is a human right. That includes safe access to abortion and other reproductive health care. I am supportive of a special session and any language that protects San Antonians from restrictive judicial decisions like the one passed down by the Supreme Court.”
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee Rodriguez:
“In my capacity as city councilman, I recognize the limitations placed on our local government. Simultaneously though, I embrace the challenge to use the tools and resources at our disposal to do as much good as we possibly can. And throughout the state of Texas, cities like El Paso, Denton, and Austin are considering protections such as the GRACE Act, which stands for Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for everyone, and I implore our council to do the same.
"The action would signal for city fund to not to be used to solicit, catalog, report or investigate reports of abortion and would ensure that our San Antonio Police Department makes investigating abortion their lowest priority. This July we’ve entered a recess period, where no council or committee meetings will take place and the only way to pass such a resolution this month would be for our mayor to call a special session and if and when the mayor calls such a meeting or should we consider the GRACE Act when we return in August, it will absolutely have my support and I encourage you to rach out to your council member and ask for them to indicate their support for the goals of the GRACE ACT.
"As always, it is a privilege and honor to serve as councilman for City Council District 2 here in San Antonio. The fight continues.”
District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry:
“There are still a lot of questions to be answered on this issue regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling. For the time being, we will work with the City Attorney’s Office and others to discuss what can and cannot be done at the local level.”
District 9 Councilman John Courage
"We have had a number of forums and community conversations recently regarding crime in our community. Not on the minds of residents is the prosecution of those seeking or performing abortions. They are most concerned about domestic violence, violent crime, human trafficking, and theft. In reality, SAPD is already stretched thin protecting our community and responding to criminal activity. Except in cases (a) where coercion or force is used against the pregnant person, (b) criminally negligent conduct involving the health of the pregnant person seeking care, or (c) where abortion, miscarriage, or reproductive healthcare is not the crime being investigated but evidence of another crime, prosecuting rumors of an alleged abortion will be a very low priority."
District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval was not available to provide a statement, but a spokesperson for her office confirmed Sandoval would support calling a special session for the GRACE Act and would support it in the event it was proposed.