AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Travis County District Attorney said Monday his office “will not criminalize personal health decisions.”
“Our communities are safer when women and families can make personal healthcare and reproductive decisions,” DA José Garza said. He hosted the press conference at 11 a.m. Monday in downtown Austin alongside Special Victims Unit Director Erin Martinson and Victim Services Unit Director Neva Fernandez, both of whom work under his office.
“If you need medical assistance, I implore you to seek it,” Garza said.
Texas’ trigger law that bans most abortions in the state takes effect 30 days after the Supreme Court issues an official judgment. A violation of the law could result in a felony.
“Enforcing this law will not only fail to protect public safety, but it will cause more harm,” Garza said.
“This legislation strips survivors of sexual violence of the control they might reclaim over their bodies,” Fernandez said Monday.
There are exceptions in the law that allow abortion in some medical emergencies that threaten the mother’s life, however, there are no exceptions for rape or incest.
“I can tell you that we had a 10 year old child get pregnant from rape. We prosecuted her assault and she was able to get an abortion at the time. It is important to understand that this isn’t a happy ending for that child. And every step was additional trauma on her child’s body and her child’s spirit. However, access to a safe abortion allowed that girl to take some control over her body back,” Fernandez stated.
Anti-abortion advocates, though, say there are options for women who are raped and become pregnant.
“When a child is conceived because of an act of rape, then that creates another victim of that crime, and taking the life of that victim is not going to decrease the trauma for the mother and it is putting the penalty for the rapist’s crime on the innocent unborn child. And so we believe that the best course of action in this situation is for that child to be born and for the mother to either raise the child or give the child the loving option of adoption,” Amy O’Donnell, Texas Alliance for Life’s communications director said Monday.
She said she does not think the DA has the discretion to choose which laws he enforces.
“The reality is that district attorneys take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States and Texas. And it should be extremely rare for a DA to acknowledge an act as unlawful. That evidence supports an individual violated that law when that time should come and then choose not to pursue charges,” O’Donnell said.
She also pointed to two other enforcement mechanisms included in Texas’ trigger law.
“Additionally, the Attorney General can bring a fine of at least $100,000 against any doctors who perform abortions, again, violating that law, and the Texas Medical Board is required to revoke that doctor’s license to practice medicine,” she said.
Republican State Sen. Bryan Hughes also told KXAN Friday he expects to address DAs across the state who do not enforce the new law in the next legislative session.
“Even though these guys are sworn to uphold the law, guys, men and women, they’ve said we’re not going to enforce pro-life laws. So that’ll have to be addressed,” he said.
While Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton marked Friday’s decision by closing his offices for the day and creating an agency holiday, Garza said in a statement the decision created “massive instability for women, their reproductive rights, and our community.”
Austin city leaders are also figuring out how to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In 2019, the city council approved funding access to abortion. The money was distributed to third-party organizations that offer those services.
Now, it’s unclear what will happen to the fund. Critics of the city’s abortion access fund said Austin should instead invest in pregnancy support programs. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said they do both.
Adler told KXAN Friday there could be a special-called council meeting next month to discuss the abortion assistance fund and the GRACE Act or Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone.
Monday’s press conference will be streamed in this story and on Facebook.