With a 9-2 vote, San Antonio City Council approved a resolution on Tuesday that condemns Texas’ abortion ban and recommends that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to abortions.

“By passing this resolution, the City of San Antonio is committing to not using any city funds or data to sell out persons seeking out a safe abortion,” said Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), who spearheaded the resolution. “Furthermore, council is communicating to our governmental relations team that … protecting persons seeking an abortion is a priority heading into the state legislative session.”

More than 100 people signed up to speak during the raucous, nearly five-hour meeting. The speakers offered impassioned, often emotional testimony in favor and opposed to the resolution and the right to choose. Mayor Ron Nirenberg paused the meeting briefly after shouting erupted during testimony.

“While the legal authority over reproductive health policy lies with the state and federal governments, we do refuse to stand idly by and watch an important constitutional right, be taken away without speaking on behalf of our constituents,” Nirenberg said. “As federal and state law changes in the future, we must do all we can to support and gain ground for reproductive freedom.”

The resolution makes exceptions for investigations into instances where “coercion or force is used against the pregnant person, or in cases involving conduct criminally negligent to the health of the pregnant person seeking care.”

Several proponents of the resolution asked that more specific language be added to direct police to “deprioritize” abortion investigations.

Luz Gallegos shouts toward supporters of abortion rights while addressing the City Council on Tuesday.
Luz Gallegos shouts toward supporters of abortion rights while addressing the City Council on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The resolution does not prevent local law enforcement from investigating criminal cases of abortion, because the council cannot tell police departments how or whether to investigate criminal cases, according to state law and the city’s charter. Council can only make recommendations.

The resolution “does not decriminalize” abortion, City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “It does articulate a policy recommendation from the council.”

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has said he doesn’t plan on prosecuting abortion providers under the ban.

Councilmen Clayton Perry (D10) and Manny Pelaez (D8) voted against the resolution for two very different reasons.

Pelaez, who is pro-choice, said the “non-binding resolution” doesn’t go far enough and could create confusion for people who think the resolution decriminalizes abortion here. “I want an ordinance that makes it obligatory for us to not spend money on this kind of cruelty. … I’m gonna vote no, because I think [pro-choice advocates] deserve better.”

He pledged to join the fight at the federal and state levels to reinstate the right to abortion, but “I just don’t think that this is the right thing to do.”

Castillo accused Pelaez of “mansplaining” during his remarks.

“I also understand how, as a straight male, that you don’t understand the impact that this resolution will have on and for individuals who can carry a child,” she said. “For the constituents throughout San Antonio who reached out to my office through social media, through our constituent services calls, this means something and this holds weight.”

City Council member Teri Castillo (D5) addresses fellow Council member Manny Pelaez (D8) about a resolution regarding abortion during a special council meeting on Tuesday.
City Council member Teri Castillo (D5) addresses fellow Council member Manny Pelaez (D8) about a resolution regarding abortion during a special council meeting on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Perry, who said his personal views on abortion “align more” with the local archdiocese of the Catholic Church, said the resolution could open the city up to litigation from the state.

“I don’t anticipate litigation stemming from this resolution at all,” Segovia said, as it does not directly contradict state law.

It’s up to the state to make decisions on abortion — and the Legislature approved a ban, Perry said. “This council resolution doesn’t change the law in Texas … If you’re unhappy with laws in Texas, go to the ballot box.”

The resolution is similar to the GRACE Act that the Austin City Council approved last week and one proposed in Dallas and Waco. A similar measure failed in El Paso last month.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade via Dobbs v. Jackson, ending federal protections for abortion. Texas’ “trigger law,” which bans nearly all abortions, will become effective on Aug. 25 — but the state’s Supreme Court has ruled that Texas can enforce its 1925 abortion ban in the meantime. Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortions once cardiac activity is detected in an embryo — and allows anyone to sue anyone for aiding or abetting an abortion, remains in effect.

As a result, abortion clinics across Texas, including the three in San Antonio, have stopped providing abortions and most abortion access funds have stopped distributing money. Patients seeking an abortion have had to travel hundreds of miles out of state or find medication abortion pills.

Many residents who spoke against the resolution evoked Christianity, equated abortion to murder and argued that the city should support adoption and increase resources for pregnant women and mothers as alternatives to abortion.

“There is no reason to have an abortion,” said Patrick Von Dohlen, an anti-abortion activist and president of the conservative advocacy group San Antonio Family Association. He also said abortion “makes women emotionally unstable”

Several women, who spoke in support of the resolution, described the circumstances around their abortions. Some said they were too young or too financially unstable to see their pregnancies to term, others said they would have had to drop out of school.

“Abortion is health care and health care is a human right,” Venus Woodworth told City Council. “Those who need or offer that care should not be policed by society or criminalized for doing so. I wish that someone had framed it this way when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant seven years ago and had to face one of the most personal choices I have ever had to make.

“Also, I am emotionally stable,” she said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org