By Kari White and Elizabeth J. Ela
Austin recently became the first city in the United States to fund logistical support for residents seeking abortion care. This policy, which provides $150,000 for transportation, child care and other services needed to obtain the procedure, protects abortion access. Cities throughout Texas should follow Austin’s lead. Overcoming logistical hurdles to abortion poses a significant challenge for many Texans.
The Austin city council’s powerful statement stands in contrast to the state Legislature’s repeated efforts during the past decade to curtail access to abortion services. In 2013, Texas House Bill 2 (HB 2) imposed medically unnecessary requirements on abortion facilities and physicians. HB 2 led to the closure of more than half the abortion clinics in the state.
Though several provisions of HB 2 were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, abortion services have not recovered. Only 23 facilities provide abortions in Texas today, compared with 41 in 2012. Many residents of West Texas and the Panhandle now live hundreds of miles from an abortion provider.
Because public and private insurance plans in Texas do not cover abortion in most circumstances, women must pay out of pocket. State-level restrictions mean Austin cannot allocate any spending to pay for abortion procedures directly, as New York City did this summer. Moreover, costs related to having an abortion can extend beyond the procedure. Many women drive long distances to reach clinics. They must make at least two clinic visits due to a law requiring a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure, although this can be waived if a woman lives more than 100 miles from an abortion provider. These obstacles create extra expenses for patients already under financial strain.
One researcher at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project recently traveled across Texas to interview more than 600 women about their experiences seeking abortion care. Many women struggled to gather enough money to cover the cost of the sonogram visit, the abortion procedure, child care and transportation to the clinic. Long waiting times at their clinic appointments resulted in additional lost wages and higher child care costs. These expenses can be especially burdensome for low-income people. As Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza emphasized in a news conference, “Abortion access is an equity issue.
Opponents of the city’s new policy argue that women seeking abortions should not receive financial support from the city. In fact, a lawsuit was recently filed against the city, the mayor and abortion rights groups, claiming that Austin’s funding violates a 1961 law that made it illegal to furnish the “means for procuring an abortion.” Relying on an antiquated law that predates Roe v. Wade reveals the true intentions of opponents: If they cannot outlaw abortion, they will try all other measures to put it out of reach.
Funding for logistical support will not fully erase inequality in abortion access or reverse the damage caused by years of anti-abortion legislation, but Austin’s policy illustrates how cities in Texas and other states hostile to abortion rights can stand up for women. These policies will be even more effective if they expand beyond Austin. People traveling from communities without an abortion provider to clinics in Austin and other cities would benefit from similar financial support. Austin’s forward-thinking policy is an important step for bridging access to abortion for those in need.
Until state and federal laws ensure that all those who have decided to end their pregnancies can obtain an abortion – regardless of income or geography – local policymakers should do what they can to ensure this care remains within reach.
White is an associate professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and Department of Sociology and principal investigator of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at The University of Texas, where Ela is a postdoctoral fellow. This opinion piece represents the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin or the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. A version of the piece was published in the Austin American-Statesman.