City of Austin prepares to decriminalize abortion if Roe v. Wade struck down

If the Supreme Court overturns the federal right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade, which it is likely to do according to a leaked draft opinion, the City of Austin, Texas is standing by ready with a resolution to protect abortion seekers and providers in a state with some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws.

The leak of a draft majority opinion earlier this month revealed the high court is poised to strike down the landmark 1973 decision, effectively eliminating abortion protections at the federal level and handing authority over abortion access to the states. Thirteen states across the country have signaled their eagerness to prohibit abortion by passing trigger laws, which will essentially ban abortions almost immediately upon Roe being overturned. 

Texas — where abortion is currently legal only up to about six weeks of pregnancy — passed a trigger law in 2021 that would ban most abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The ban makes an exception to save a pregnant woman from severe injury or death, but makes no exceptions in the case of rape or incest. Abortion providers would face first and second-degree felony charges, steep fines and the possibility of life in prison. The law would go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court’s ruling. 

In anticipation of the potential ruling, Austin City Council Member José “Chito” Vela has proposed a resolution, the Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone Act, or the GRACE Act, to stand in the way of prosecution of so-called abortion crimes. 

The resolution would restrict city funds from being used to investigate any kind of alleged abortion crimes and would instruct the city’s police department to treat abortion as the “lowest priority” for criminal enforcement, arrest and investigation. 

“It does not directly halt enforcement, but it severely limits the ability of the city or any staff to collect or provide evidence for prosecutions. It also preemptively bans surveillance of anyone or anything related to suspected abortions outside of some limited exceptions, like coercion or force,” a spokesperson for Vela told Changing America. 

Vela plans to introduce the GRACE Act for a vote “as soon as possible” once the Supreme Court publishes its decision. The resolution has three co-sponsors in addition to Vela and would require approval from all relevant city executives. Vela’s spokesperson says the council member has the approval needed to “effectively protect Austin residents.” 

“Abortion will still be illegal in Austin, and it would be very difficult for any abortion providers to openly perform abortion. This resolution simply represents a commitment from the city to turning a blind eye to abortions which are not criminal in other ways – for example, coerced or forced abortions,” Vela’s spokesperson said. 

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