Check: House Law 61
Filed: Candy Noble, Republican, District 89 (Lucas, NE of Dallas)
What would he do: The bill would prohibit government agencies from “dealing with taxpayer resources” or spending money to provide logistical support to anyone with an abortion. As defined by law, logistical support includes travel to and from the abortion site, accommodation, meals, childcare, counseling, and “any other service that facilitates the performance of an abortion.” The bill allows Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue and recover attorneys’ fees if the city violates a potential law.
The Republican legislator’s bill is the latest in a long line of not-so-subtle attacks on the city of Austin, which supports abortion treatment. A 2019 law (Senate Bill 22) passed by the Legislature expressly prohibited local governments from contracting abortion providers and their affiliates, a thinly veiled blow to Austin due to its multi-year $1 a year lease agreement with East Austin Planned Parenthood Clinic. which only offered preventive health services such as birth control and cancer screening. (State and federal tax dollars could not go directly to abortion procedures, despite statements from Republican legislators. The only local hospital district in Texas to actually use local tax dollars for abortion services ended that aid after a 2011 state law that, again, deliberately targeting Travis County, where Austin resides, by threatening to deprive him of public money.)
In 2019, Austin found a way around SB 22: if the city was banned from directly contracting abortion providers, then it could offer funds to aid groups that provide logistic abortion support, including childcare, hotel rooms, gasoline for car trips, and plane tickets. The City Council made an unprecedented investment in abortion funds, first injecting $150,000 in 2019, which was later supplemented by a historic reallocation of Austin Police Department funds. The first-of-its-kind abortion support program in the nation passes money through the Austin Public Health System to abortion aid groups such as Jane’s Due Process and the Texas Choice Fund. The measure was the liberal city’s response to the growing number of small conservative towns in Texas passing “unborn sanctuary town” ordinances.
Abortion funds across the state recently withdrew logistical support targeted by Noble, fearing criminal liability under the state’s “trigger law,” which went into effect in August and provides for criminal penalties up to life in prison for performing an abortion. In late August, a group of abortion foundations sued Attorney General Ken Paxton, citing their First Amendment right to free speech through charitable donations and seeking legal protection to continue helping Texans seeking abortions, including by raising money. for travel and other logistical support. The funds are awaiting a decision on their request for a preliminary injunction from Austin US District Judge Robert Pitman. But when—or perhaps if—abortion foundations can reopen, Noble’s bill could prevent Austin and other cities like it from financially supporting the foundations and their clients.
Noble’s bill is not the first attempt to stop the city from helping Texans who want abortions. In 2019, former Austin City Councilman Don Zimmerman, a right-wing supporter, filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the abortion services program violated an outdated but still valid state law that criminalizes anyone who “provides funds.” for those who have an abortion. Zimmerman’s legal reasoning ran counter to nearly fifty years of precedent for abortion rights, and a Travis County judge ruled against him. However, now the case has found a new life: after the decision of the US Supreme Court Dobbs in a June decision, the Texas Supreme Court overturned all previous rulings in the Zimmerman case and returned the suit to the trial court.
Does the bill stand a chance of being passed? Yes it is. It combines the Republican Party’s eternal criticism of Austin with its desire to limit the right to abortion. HB 61 likely won’t be the final legislative blow to Austin and other abortion-friendly cities, especially since the capital, Dallas, and San Antonio have taken bold stances to protect their citizens from abortion prosecutions, either through resolutions aimed at the decriminalization of abortion; or promises by district attorneys to refrain from prosecuting medical professionals. Some anti-abortion legislators have already pledged to take action that would give local district attorneys the ability to prosecute abortion-related crimes in other jurisdictions if the district’s district attorney fails to do so.
Noble’s attempt to pass the bill last session was never put to a vote, while the Senate equivalent of Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, passed through the upper house. The bill could pass this session, but it could eventually be sidelined and overshadowed by more pressing anti-abortion priorities debated by conservative lawmakers, including expanding the powers of local district attorneys to prosecute, adding barriers to traveling out of state for an abortion . – searchers and blocking access to medical abortion websites, among other potential suggestions.