The Supreme Court issued its 6-3 opinion overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, paving the way for Texas to move forward with its near-total ban on abortion. Last legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed a "trigger law"—the Human Life Protection Act of 2021—which will go into effect following the Supreme Court's formal judgment overturning Roe v. Wade.
The law will be effective 30 days after the Supreme Court issues its judgment on the Roe case, which is separate from the opinion issued this month. Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office will announce the act's effective date after that action by the court, which could take a month or more.
Separate from the new act, Paxton also said prosecutors can immediately pursue criminal charges against abortion providers based on other Texas laws that were in place prior to the original Roe decision in the 1970s but unenforceable with Roe on the books.
Soon after the Supreme Court opinion was published, District 4 Council Member Chito Vela announced that he and District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes are seeking to hold a special-called council meeting "as soon as possible" to consider a resolution from Vela that would limit Austin's role in the state's "draconian" abortion ban, he said.
The GRACE Act, or Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone Act, was previously drafted by Vela in anticipation of the court's action on Roe. The measure would update city policy to deprioritize the investigation or enforcement of any charges related to pregnancy and abortion in Austin. The resolution would also formally block the use of any city funding or other resources for information sharing, data collection and surveillance related to abortion services and other reproductive health decisions.
The resolution would not apply when "coercion or force" is used against a pregnant person or in cases of criminal negligence related to a pregnant person's health.
"Today is a painful day for our country, and I grieve the violations of bodily autonomy which the Texas state government will soon impose on Austin residents," Vela said in a June 24 post on council's message board. "I hope our city can be a source of grace to those who will be targeted for making what should be a private medical decision."
While Austin cannot legally spell out how its employees should handle criminal cases, Vela said council can push its own preferences or recommendations for such actions, allowing officials to formally deprioritize abortion enforcement locally.
Ahead of a discussion and vote on the proposal, Vela and Fuentes are joined by Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Paige Ellis and Kathie Tovo as GRACE Act cosponsors. Vela said he believes the resolution will pass when council takes it up.
"Let me be clear—you can not make abortion go away by criminalizing it. All this does is make seeking essential health care unsafe by putting people of lower economic means and communities of color at risk. These communities do not have the advantages of middle-class and wealthy people who can travel to access abortion care," Fuentes said in a message board post. "My heart is heavy with the outcome of today, but I know myself and my colleagues will do everything in our power to protect our community—because of the simple truth that abortion is health care and a human right."
Council is on its summer meeting recess until late July, but a special meeting to consider the GRACE Act could be held as soon as next week. The resolution, if approved, would require a report from city management on how the enforcement policy is being carried out by July 26.
Additional information from Vela's office states the GRACE Act would not conflict with the state abortion ban, and that he is confident the proposal is legal under state law—for now. However, the act would not prevent any investigations into abortions by state agencies. Vela also said the state could also move to work around the city by giving Paxton's office, rather than local district attorneys, jurisdiction over abortion enforcement.
The GRACE Act would build on previous actions by Austin City Council aimed at abortion in the past year. Officials formally opposed the contents of Senate Bill 8, the state's six-week abortion ban, last year after its passage and this spring also passed several pieces of a "reproductive health agenda," including a new anti-discrimination ordinance protecting anyone who has had an abortion when seeking employment or housing. A June 21 update from the city civil rights office said more time is still needed to put that policy into effect.