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Commission for Women supports the GRACE Act, abortion access

Monday, July 18, 2022 by Willow Higgins

Austin’s Commission for Women passed a recommendation this week in support of the GRACE Act, which would de-prioritize abortion investigations and prevent city funds from being used to report procedures, which will soon be completely illegal in the state.

While City Council is currently in recess, the GRACE Act will be discussed when Council convenes on Thursday for a special session. So at their most recent meeting, the Commission for Women discussed the local ramifications of the Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion. 

“We all know we come from different backgrounds with different beliefs … we’re not here to get into a debate about all of that. It’s more about if we need to take actions to protect equity for women and girls, which is part of our core mission,” said Commission Chair Rebecca Austen.

Austen, who drafted the initial recommendation and posted the item for discussion and possible action, workshopped the initial version of the document with her fellow commissioners. Various members chimed in with suggestions for additional bullet points to be incorporated in the final version of the recommendation before it is published.

“Referring to women and girls makes invisible people needing health care who are trans men or nonbinary individuals … trans men are people who are born with uteruses and cervixes and vaginas but identify as men now, and they are absolutely getting pregnant,” said Commissioner Juliana Gonzales, in response to the recommendation using women as the main subject. “I’m curious if the LGBTQ commission has an interest in advising on some language (that says people who can get pregnant), not just women.”

The commission also decided to add a line that explicitly states the consequences for victims of rape, incest and sex trafficking.

“I’m wondering if it’s not worth it to really state what that means for child victims of sexual assault who are capable of getting pregnant – like 10- or 11-year-olds who get pregnant and can’t get abortions now,” said Commissioner Neva Fernandez, who will take the lead on incorporating this sentiment into the final version.

Members also volunteered to add a section about the mental health consequences of the lack of abortion access in the area, and a section referring back to the pre-Roe statutes that date back to the 1920s that are relevant now that the landmark case was overturned.

The commission also expressed an interest in adding a statement about increasing funding for legal aid and for out-of-state travel to obtain an abortion, but decided they’ll update their statement once they know what the upcoming city budget is already slotted to include.  In March, after Texas limited abortions to those under six weeks pregnant, the Commission for Women passed an initial recommendation that the next budget cycle includes funding for things like legal aid and travel support for abortion access and prenatal and health care options for those who choose to carry out their pregnancy.

The recommendation to Council on support of the GRACE Act was passed with one opposing vote cast by Commissioner Pam Rattan. The recommendation will be updated with the additional statements from commissioners as they were discussed in the meeting in the coming days. Once finalized, the recommendation will be distributed to other city committees like the Joint Inclusion Committee and the Public Safety Committee with the hopes that they may also want to express their support for the GRACE Act.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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