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Austin – a saving GRACE for reproductive health in Texas

We’ve all heard the news about what is happening to women’s reproductive rights across the country. As a woman or person with a uterus, you likely paid immense attention to the Supreme Court ruling in regards to Roe v Wade as you are directly impacted by this decision. The 5-4 vote decision on overturning the longstanding Constitutional right to abortion on June 24th, 2022, sent shockwaves across the world as the country many nations looked up to for its freedoms and access to rights severed these rights to half of its citizens. The whole world has been paying attention to the US since then, and it’s not a good kind of attention.

With over 30 days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, deciding that women in the US no longer have bodily autonomy protection at a federal level, states have turned left and right to impose restrictions or offer protections. From trigger laws that came into effect with the overturn of Roe v. Wade to laws enacted to protect abortion providers from out-of-state bans, these decisions are passed down to the states. But what happens when a city stands up against a state decision? This is the case in many cities that find themselves in predominantly anti-abortion states, and the city of Austin, Texas, is carrying on that mantel. The city is leading the way for other cities to fight for women’s rights and access to reproductive health care, and we’re here to underline what that means for Austinites.

What does the Overturn of Roe v. Wade Mean?

In order to understand what the overthrow of this landmark decision means to women across the US, let’s first take a closer look at the 1973 Supreme Court decision that conferred the constitutional right to abortion. The case of Jane Roe (legal pseudonym) started when she became pregnant with her third child in 1969, but as a Texan, she wasn’t allowed to terminate the pregnancy unless her life was endangered by the unborn fetus. After the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas ruled in her favor, local parties appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. 

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution gives women the right to privacy and protects a woman’s right to an abortion. Furthermore, the Supreme Court balanced the protection of women’s health and prenatal life, resulting in a pregnancy-trimester timetable that will govern abortion regulations in the US. Abortion was classified as a fundamental right, requiring courts to change abortion laws across the nation.

Rights being Restricted

Since the 2022 Supreme Court ruling, the decision has been passed on to the states, and rights differ based on where you live in America. While some states like California, New Jersey, Washington, and others had state laws protecting abortion or passed new laws to protect this right, others like Texas, Ohio, Florida, and others imposed limitations, restrictions, or bans to make abortions inaccessible or even criminal through trigger laws or laws enacted after Roe was overturned. It’s safe to say that this subject is difficult to discuss regardless of which side you’re fighting for, but one thing is fact. 

Restricting access to abortion does NOT save the lives of women or the unborn; this can be seen in other countries that imposed abortion bans throughout recent history. The most recent example was Polland which only allows abortion to save the life of the mother, which led to massive protests across the country. Still, countries like Iraq, Malta, and Senegal are just some of the ones that completely ban abortions.

The Romania Study Case

Those looking for examples of how total bans on abortions affected the lives of children and mothers, we have one example that carries a heavy punch. In 1966, the communist leader of Romania, an Eastern-European country, banned abortion and contraception in order to boost the country’s population. This ban was in effect until 1989, when it was lifted after his death (by a firing squad with his wife and filmed). This prolonged ban resulted in the death of over 10,000 women who sought back-alley abortions and around 170,000 children ending up in badly funded orphanages. After all, Margaret Atwood was inspired by real-life examples when she wrote the Handmaid’s Tale.

While the US led the world 50 years ago towards the liberation of abortion laws, it now follows Iran, Russia, and North Korea in imposing restrictions on this fundamental right. Furthermore, in Alabama, the restrictions go further than the bans imposed in Romania as it doesn’t allow exceptions in case of congenital defects, rape, or incest. Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, we have also seen an increase in the discussion around contraception, with many political leaders coming forward against these birth control options. Still, there are states and cities that push hard against these decisions in the hope that they will be able to protect their citizens from further limitations and bans.

Austin’s GRACE Act

Multiple news outlets covered the steps taken by the Austin City Council left, right, and center, as Council members José “Chito” Vela and Vanessa Fuentes fought to pass the GRACE Act in late July. While the whole country is debating abortion rights and women taking to the streets, the GRACE Act was passed unanimously in Austin to protect the rights to abortion care within the city. GRACE, while it is a word used to describe honor and elegance, among other things, stands for Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone. By far, the biggest stand was taken against the Supreme Court decision and Texas absolute ban that will take effect later this summer, the GRACE Act doesn’t actually decriminalize abortion. So what’s the point then?

What is the Purpose of the GRACE Act?

Well, the GRACE Act was passed to protect abortion rights in the city of Austin. While it doesn’t decriminalize abortion and definitely does not make it legal, there are four resolutions that will have an impact in how the whole situation will be handled within the city’s borders.

  • The first resolution prohibits discrimination against people based on their reproductive health choices when it comes to housing and employment opportunities.
  • The second resolution prohibits the use of public City funds to collect and disclose information related to miscarriages or other reproductive healthcare procedures to other government agencies, also prohibiting any surveillance of people who seek or perform abortions.
  • The third resolution provides a framework to educate citizens of Austin on “long-term birth control, including vasectomies”. Also, it secures healthcare for city employees for “low-cost birth control, including vasectomies”.
  • The fourth resolution instructs the Austin City Manager to authorize benefits for Austin employees that will cover travel costs to other states for abortion access and other reproductive healthcare services.

This Act intends to make it possible for people that have had their rights taken away from them to have some form of access to them again. The question on everybody’s lips right now is whether it will stand or not. The reason for that is Dillon’s Rule, a 19th-century precedent that establishes state laws as overruling municipal laws. This is likely to be an ongoing fight between state and municipal governments trying to set laws based on contradictory opinions. 

What might come to happen is that the first resolution might overcrowd courts as the first impact that someone who seeks abortion may be faced with. Municipal courts are likely to protect against discrimination and make the whole case void, but the actual results of the GRACE Act will only be seen in the future. Still, this debate is likely to continue as Texans are trying to navigate the rapidly shifting legal terrain, and some of the best places to live in Texas like San Antonio and Waco, are pushing for similar acts to make these procedures accessible.

Conclusion

The debate surrounding abortion rights is a sensitive subject, as mentioned above, regardless of which side of the aisle you find yourself. The fact of the matter is that abortion is never an easy decision to make, even for the most pro-choice person. It is personal. It is intimate. And, yes, it is one of the most difficult decisions a person with a uterus can make. The emotional and physical torment that someone goes through before, during, and after they have made that decision is unparalleled by anything. Still, it should be a decision that rests entirely on the person directly affected by it. It shouldn’t be a government decision or a medical professional decision. The reason for that is that only the person who becomes pregnant knows what they are physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially capable of offering that unborn fetus. Abortion restrictions impact people from all circles of life, but the heaviest effect is felt by minority groups and low-income families. History is meant to be seen as a lesson, and we have plenty of examples of why this is not a good way to go.

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