Some sparks fly as council finalizes budget, including fund to assist travel for abortion care

Expansion of SA CORE, more Animal Care Services funding, and public housing maintenance fund also poised to make the $3.7B budget ahead of Thursday vote

San Antonio – As the San Antonio City Council spent a second day debating last-minute tweaks to the city budget, a proposal that could help fund trips to out-of-state abortion clinics continued to be a point of contention.

A $500,000 so-called “Reproductive Justice Fund” is poised to make it into the city’s $3.7 billion budget ahead of a final vote on Thursday. Abortion advocates said a fund controlled by the Metropolitan Health District could support groups that provide sexual health services, including transportation and lodging for women seeking legal abortions outside of the state.

The procedure has been illegal in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and opened the door to state-by-state regulation.

Some groups have helped women get around the state’s ban by helping cover travel costs so they can go somewhere the procedure is legal.

Advocates and their supporters on the city council also said a Reproductive Justice Fund could also be used to support groups that offer reproductive health resources like STI testing or prenatal vitamins, reproductive healthcare education, support for doula training, or training for reproductive healthcare service providers.

Council members could pass the fund as part of Thursday’s budget without defining its exact limits, though council members would eventually need to nail those down.

Most of the council members have expressed support for some version of the idea.

“To me, this item is not about abortion. It is literally about reproductive health. And it’s an important aspect and component of women’s bodies,” said Councilwoman Marina Alderete Gavito (D7).

One of the idea’s biggest supporters, Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), has said helping organizations that offer travel assistance would “ideally” be part of the fund’s purpose. She has also painted it as a way to follow through on the previous council’s resolution last year expressing support for abortion access.

Castillo, Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), and Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) even suggested adding an additional $500,000 for a second year. They proposed the extra money come out of another possible amendment -- $1 million for an inclusive hotel through the Morgan’s Wonderland Inclusion Foundation.

“I’m supportive of the mission, but I also recall they receive $14 million or $15 million from ARPA funding,” Castillo said.

The only one on the dais to publicly oppose the measure has been the council’s most conservative member, Councilman Marc Whyte (D10). Speaking against the idea again on Wednesday, Whyte noted San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller has spoken against it as well.

“And I think he called this proposal ‘morally repugnant,’” Whyte said. “And that was actually before what happened in the last hour here where we had council folks suggesting we take money from disabled care for disabled children and put it towards abortion access. I wonder what, what he would say about that now.”

Whyte also warned of possible legal risks if the city helped fund travel for out-of-state abortions.

Though City Attorney Andy Segovia declined to discuss any legal issues in-depth during open session, he said there is “absolutely no criminal liability for what the fund, I think, is slated to fund in terms of the array of services the organizations provide.”

However, a 2021 state law passed before the overturning of Roe v. Wade allows anyone to sue someone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks. So, while there could be a risk of a lawsuit, he said, “It can be mitigated by, again, the scope of services and the way we set up the contract.”

“So, to say that there is risk, I would say ‘yes.’ To say it’s ‘problematic risk,’ I probably wouldn’t characterize it that way,” Segovia said.

At Whyte’s prompting, council members met behind closed doors to discuss the possible legal issues in more depth.

Given the level of support from other members, the fund appears set to be included as part of the final array of budget amendments the council will vote on at its meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Additional money for Animal Care Services, around-the-clock coverage from the city’s mental health response team, and a public housing maintenance fund also appear poised to make the final cut.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.