Five San Antonio City Council members and the mayor stood in support of a largely symbolic measure Wednesday that would attempt to “decriminalize” abortion locally.
Council is expected to approve a resolution during a special meeting called for Tuesday that would essentially condemn Texas’ abortion ban and recommend that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to the ban.
“Women and individuals who are seeking access to abortion need to know that their elected officials are standing by them and will not allow city resources to be used to collect any data to potentially criminalize or prosecute them,” Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), who drafted the resolution and held the press conference outside City Hall, told the San Antonio Report after the event.
The resolution cannot prevent local enforcement from investigating criminal cases of abortion, Castillo acknowledged, because the council cannot tell police departments how or whether to investigate criminal cases, according to the city’s charter.
“But it’s a step in the right direction and it’s a step to build upon and implement additional policy,” she said.
Castillo didn’t elaborate on what additional policies council might consider, but said she was looking forward to hearing ideas from the community and her colleagues.
Castillo and Mayor Ron Nirenberg were joined by council members Mario Bravo (D1), Phyllis Viagran (D3), Melissa Cabello-Havrda (D6) and John Courage (D9); together, the six represent a majority of council.
The resolution is similar to the GRACE Act that the Austin City Council approved this week. That, too, was a symbolic policy recommendation, as Austin’s charter has similar rules around the direction of law enforcement.
Last month, 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, also remains in effect.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and at least four other Texas district attorneys have said they don’t plan on prosecuting abortion providers under the ban, but all three clinics that provided abortion services in San Antonio before the ban have stopped performing the procedure.
“There is no justice in investigating, for the purpose of prosecution, women who seek [an] abortion or their abortion providers,” Gonzales said during the press conference. “We have an obligation to review those cases and we will — but then I reserve the right to exercise my prosecutorial discretion and make decisions about whether or not to go forward with those cases.”
The city legally can’t decriminalize abortions, Nirenberg acknowledged, but it can send a clear message in support of the right to choose.
“To the extent that we can, we’re not utilizing resources to prosecute or investigate or otherwise criminalize people who seek that basic care, and then we’re collectively saying: we want these unjust laws to change,” Nirenberg said. “If the legislature is unwilling to protect women, then we’ll find people who will.”
Though the resolution is essentially toothless, local abortion access advocate Makayla Montoya Frazier praised city leaders for finally showing “solidarity with abortion seekers” advocates have been waiting “for decades” to hear.
That’s an especially difficult stance to take in a heavily religious city like San Antonio, said Montoya Frazier, a founder of the Buckle Bunnies Fund, which helps Texans access and pay for abortions. “I know that it might not be easy, but it is the right thing to do. Because these people do have abortions, and the least we can do is say that we stand with them.”