The city of Austin is attempting to shield residents from prosecution under a Texas law that would criminalize almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. It is the first push by a major city in a red state to try circumventing state abortion policy, Politico reports. Councilmember Chito Vela proposed that would direct the police department to make criminal enforcement, arrest and investigation of abortions its lowest priority and restrict city funds and staff from being used to investigate, catalogue or report suspected abortions. The state has a trigger law, which would take effect 30 days after a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe, that includes the nation's harshest criminal penalties on abortion and language vague enough that abortion rights proponents believe it will be used to go after abortion providers and criminalize people people who end their own pregnancies with abortion pills. The law would make performing, inducing or attempting an abortion where an "unborn child dies as a result of the offense" a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
The proposed resolution doesn't explicitly decriminalize abortion but rather directs police to make it their lowest enforcement priority in an effort to skirt conflict with the state law, Vela said. It highlights the tension between red state and blue cities, where a new front in the battle over abortion rights is opening as the Supreme Court prepares to issue a decision in the coming weeks. Austin's proposal, which aims to protect both patients and providers, comes as an extension of the city's efforts to preserve abortion access. The city has already provided logistical support for abortion access, including transportation, lodging and child care, since 2019. More cities in Texas could be next.