The only three clinics providing abortions in San Antonio paused their work after Attorney General Ken Paxton released an advisory Friday that prosecutors could choose “to immediately pursue criminal prosecutions” because laws on the Texas books before Roe v. Wade were never repealed.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said earlier in the day, just hours after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, ending federal protection for abortion, that there would be “no justice” in prosecuting abortion providers when Texas’s abortion ban goes into effect — but he stopped short of saying he would never prosecute such cases.
“I am pledging not to plan to prosecute, but every prosecutor has an obligation to comply with the law,” Gonzales said. “I certainly will comply with law, but my intent is to support women in their in their very personal decisions.”
But prosecutorial discretion only goes so far. District attorneys could face sanctions from the state, including removal of office, if they don’t enforce the law. Because of that, Gonzales said he wouldn’t refuse to prosecute all such cases, for instance, if a woman was forced to have an abortion.
Paxton’s advisory prompted clinics across the state and organizations that fund abortions to pause their work.
“Although these statutes were unenforceable while Roe was on the books, they are still Texas law,” Paxton stated. “Abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today.”
Texas’s “trigger law,” which bans nearly all abortions, will become effective 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court formally issues its judgment overturning Roe v. Wade. The law allows narrow exceptions to save the life of the mother or to prevent “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”
Under the ban, doctors could face life in prison and fines up to $100,000 for an illegal abortion. It criminalizes people who perform abortions, not those who receive one.
Makayla Montoya Frazier, the 22-year-old co-founder of the Buckle Bunnies Fund, which helps Texans access and pay for abortion, said Friday that those who need abortions can still travel out of state or get abortion medication.
“You can still get an abortion,” Montoya Frazier said at the press conference called by Gonzales Friday morning, before clinics around the state announced that they would immediately stop offering abortion care. “There’s a 30-day period where [the ban] doesn’t really go into effect. But even if it happened today, we would still be telling people you can get an abortion and we will help you.”
The only state bordering Texas that is not expected to ban abortions in some way is New Mexico, which is bracing for an influx of patients. There are also groups in Colorado, such as the Colorado Doula Project, that provide financial and logistical assistance for people seeking out-of-state abortions.
Some Texas GOP leaders have said they will focus on criminalizing out-of-state abortions for Texas residents and cracking down on groups that help people obtain medical abortions through the mail.
“That’s something we would gladly fight,” said Montoya Frazier. “As long as one person is able to get their abortion when they want their abortion. That’s worth it for us.”
Securing medication for abortions via telehealth or mail was already illegal in Texas when new penalties went into effect in December 2021 that added jail time and a fine of up to $10,000 for anyone who prescribes the pills by telehealth or through the mail.
There are no fines for taking the pills; just for providing them.
Abortions immediately halted
Planned Parenthood of South Texas operates two abortion clinics in San Antonio; the third is run by Alamo Women’s Reproductive Health. Both said Friday they would stop providing abortions immediately.
But Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Texas, said during a call with reporters Friday that while its clinics will pause abortion services while its legal teams review the ruling “and how it impacts and triggers existing Texas laws,” the organization will not be closing its clinics.
“Our family planning services just became all the more essential,” he said.
Buckle Bunnies isn’t going anywhere, Montoya Frazier said.
“We might just be a little more strategic about what we say who we say it to, but we’re not going to stop doing the work that we do,” she said, noting that she understands why some groups have to pause. “They’re in a lot more risk, because of their [nonprofit] status.” Buckle Bunnies is not a registered nonprofit.
Texas already has one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws, which bans abortion after six weeks and makes it a criminal offense to help a woman obtain an abortion.
Not all women have the time or money to access an out-of-state abortion, meaning the ban will likely disproportionately impact low-income communities of color.
“Words alone cannot fully convey the atrociousness of this partisan opinion, the ways in which it jeopardizes countless other inherent personal freedoms, and the level of harm it will inflict on our nation’s marginalized communities — notably Black and Latino,” Brianna Brown, Texas Organizing Project co-executive director stated in a news release.
The most typical abortion patient profile in Texas is Hispanic women in their 20s or 30s who are less than 10 weeks pregnant, according to Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Black residents, however, have the highest rates of abortion among the childbearing age group: 18 out of every 1,000 Black women had an abortion in 2019, double the rate of Hispanic Texans.
“It is no coincidence whatsoever that right-wing extremists are hell-bent on banning us from making decisions for ourselves, literally not allowing us as human beings to have the power to determine our own futures,” Brown said. “The fight for healthcare broadly, and abortion access specifically, is a fight for racial justice.”
Some advocacy organizations, including AidAccess, continue to disregard state laws to provide abortion medication through the mail.
Buckle Bunnies also works closely with Monterrey-based abortion network Red Necesito Abortar.
“All the abortion funds in Mexico and South America are doing amazing work without [nonprofit status], without the interference of the government, without fear and without shame and stigma,” Montoya Frazier said. “They’ve known the power of abortion pills for much longer than we have and so I really think it’s time that we all step up.”