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Vela plans resolution to prevent police from investigating abortion

(Christa McWhirter/Austonia)

By Jo Clifton

In light of a likely U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion, City Council Member Chito Vela is working on a resolution that tells Austin police they should not investigate or solicit information regarding women who get abortions or abortion providers.

The resolution will be called the GRACE Act. Vela told Politico, “This is not an academic conversation. This is a very real conversation where people’s lives could be destroyed by these criminal prosecutions. In Texas, you’re an adult at 17. We are looking at the prospect of a 17-year-old girl who has an unplanned pregnancy and is seeking an abortion (being) subjected to first-degree felony charges – up to 99 years in jail – and that’s just absolutely unacceptable.”

Texas has the harshest anti-abortion provision of any state.

While anti-abortion advocates have celebrated since the leak of the upcoming Supreme Court decision, it has sparked fury nationwide and alarmed Texas pro-choice organizations in particular. Texas has what is called a “trigger law,” designed to criminalize any abortion except for those performed to save the life or health of the mother. That law would go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court decision.

Travis County District Attorney José Garza has joined district attorneys from other Texas cities in declaring that he would not prosecute women for having an abortion.

Vela, an attorney, is seeking to protect those seeking an abortion as well as those providing an abortion by enacting a policy that says city funds should not be used to target abortions and making abortion the lowest priority for criminal enforcement, according to a spokesperson for his office.

Council Members Vanessa Fuentes and Paige Ellis are among the resolution’s co-sponsors.

Fuentes told the Austin Monitor via email, “The importance of the GRACE Act cannot be overstated. By banning the use of city funds to record (and) investigate reports of abortion care and providing a recommendation to APD to place reports of abortion-related care at the lowest possible priority, we are demonstrating City Council’s willingness to go on the offensive by fighting back for reproductive rights in a proactive manner. Since Austin will be the first major city in Texas to pursue an initiative like this, we are working with groups like Local Progress to motivate and support other cities in Texas to take action.”

Council Member Paige Ellis also reiterated her support for the resolution in an email to the Monitor.

“The Austin community overwhelmingly supports abortion rights, and I am proud to co-sponsor Council Member Vela’s effort to decriminalize abortion if Roe is overturned and Texas’ trigger law goes into effect,” said Ellis. “The state of Texas has a history of inserting itself into private health decisions and to go so far as to criminalize personal choices made by families with their doctors is egregious. I’ve been a proud sponsor of the city providing amicus support in order to assist those challenging (Senate Bill 8) as well as a co-sponsor of the abortion access resolutions the Austin City Council has passed in previous years. My colleagues and I have led on creative measures to ensure abortion care is available to all who need it, and I know this Council will continue to do everything in our power to defend basic human rights.”

According to his spokesperson, Vela is seeking input from various pro-choice groups before preparing a final version of the resolution. The spokesperson said as soon as the Supreme Court acts – presuming that they overturn Roe v. Wade – Vela will be ready to ask for a special called meeting to consider the resolution. That will likely be in early July. At this point, Council is not scheduled to have any meetings between June 16 and July 26.

When asked how Austin police would respond to the resolution, a spokesperson for the city’s public information office provided the following statement: “The city is prepared to take the steps necessary to implement this resolution upon passage by City Council.”

The Texas Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment about the resolution.


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