Friday, September 13, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Advocates cheer abortion aid funding; Zimmerman sues city

As city leaders and advocates for reproductive choice gathered for a press conference Thursday morning, most of the conversation focused on how Austin became the first city in the country to allocate funding for logistical support, such as transportation and child care, for abortion.

On Tuesday, Council voted to add $150,000 to the upcoming budget so Austin Public Health can award contracts to groups such as the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity and Fund Texas Choice to provide such services. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza sponsored the budget amendment, saying it was an equity issue that directly affects people in her district.

Sarah Lopez, program coordinator for Fund Texas Choice, said, “I’m proud of the leadership of our partner organizations and Austin City Council members for making Austin the first city in the nation to provide practical support funding for residents seeking an abortion. I hope that this monumental achievement can set an example for the rest of Texas, and show the rest of the country that we are a state that values a person’s right to safe and legal abortion, no matter how hard legislators are fighting against us.”

In addition to Garza and the abortion rights advocates, Council members Paige Ellis, Leslie Pool and Greg Casar spoke about the need for the funding amidst actions by the Texas Legislature to make abortion access more difficult.

One outspoken conservative activist currently seeking a seat in the Legislature is former Council Member Don Zimmerman. Zimmerman filed suit Wednesday against the city, Mayor Steve Adler and several pro-choice groups, including the Lilith Fund. His lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court, requests the court to enjoin the city from providing any funding to help women get abortions.

Earlier this year, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 22, which prohibits cities from providing taxpayer money directly to abortion providers or their affiliates. However, organizations that assist women seeking abortions with logistical support “are not covered by the prohibitions” because they do not fall under the statutory definition of abortion provider, according to Zimmerman’s lawsuit.

That bill would have prevented the city from leasing space to Planned Parenthood, but could not be applied retroactively, so the group’s lease with Austin can continue.

Garza said, “I know there’s been talk about whether this is in response to SB 22, but I want to make it clear: I don’t make decisions based on what the Legislature wants, I make decisions based on what our community needs. Abortion access is an equity issue, and because my Southeast Austin district is majority-Latino and lower income than the rest of the city on average, this is an issue that directly affects them. Help defraying some of the additional costs people incur as a result of restrictions on abortion access is the kind of help that will make a real, tangible difference in lives of many of my constituents.”

Ellis said, “Every person in our community deserves access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion. As the state continues its harmful agenda chipping away at our constitutional rights, we recommit ourselves to protecting and expanding access to abortion care for people in our community.”

Pool said, “Here we are at Austin City Hall, a mile away from the state Capitol, and yet we couldn’t be farther apart on our values when it comes to expanding access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion. It’s a shame that as the years go by, more restrictive laws go into place, chipping away at Roe v. Wade, and women in our community have less access to abortion care.”

Zimmerman’s suit rests on a 1961 law that made it illegal to furnish the “means for procuring an abortion.” Although this law is obviously in conflict with Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal nationwide, Zimmerman argues that the Texas statute is still good law because the Legislature did not repeal it after the landmark abortion decision.

Asked about the suit, Casar said, “I didn’t know if I was reading a lawsuit or if it was a satire piece in The Onion. The lawsuit reads like Zimmerman just stepped out of a misogynist time machine and he doesn’t realize that things like abortion, interracial marriage and birth control are suddenly all legal now.”

A city spokesperson said, “We are disappointed that Mr. Zimmerman chose to sue the mayor and the city in response to City Council’s clear policy direction that it intended to fund organizations that provide social support services, including child care and transportation, in an effort to support individuals who are involved in personal health care decisions. This policy direction does not violate state law and we are prepared to defend both the city and Mayor Adler in court.”

Zimmerman is represented by attorneys Jonathan F. Mitchell of Austin and Dustin Fillmore of Fort Worth.

Photo: Protest rally against HB2 and SB1 by mirsasha made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Don Zimmerman: Former Austin City Council Member for District 6 (2014-2016)

Texas Legislature: The state’s legislative governing body composed of the House and Senate.

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