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San Antonio moves closer to funding out-of-state abortion travel

Members of the San Antonio City Council discussing the Reproductive Justice Fund on Tuesday.
Josh Peck
Members of the San Antonio City Council discussing the Reproductive Justice Fund on Tuesday.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District will open applications for organizations who want to use a portion of the city’s $500,000 Reproductive Justice Fund to advance reproductive and sexual health on June 24.

40% of the fund, or $200,000, will be used for so-called “downstream” services, which include home pregnancy tests, STI home test kits, and travel for out-of-state abortions.

Though a slim 6-member majority of the council supports using city dollars for out-of-state abortion travel, several Northside members have come out strongly against the proposal. The city is also dealing with a lawsuit from anti-abortion groups like the San Antonio Family Association and Texas Right to Life over the fund and its potential use to fund travel for out-of-state abortions.

Metro Health’s initial proposal for downstream services at an April council briefing was half the size. Metro Health Director Junda Woo said the extra funding for downstream services was spurred by council’s support for it at the briefing on Tuesday.

Half of the fund is slated for “midstream” services, such as sexual health education for youths, doula training scholarships, and insurance navigation support. The last 10% would be used for “upstream” services like food and housing insecurity.

McKee-Rodriguez said more attention should be paid to these services, which is what the majority of the fund will be used for.

“Black maternal health rates, that is huge, that’s a big issue,” he said. “The lack of sexual education for our youth is a big deal. These are huge gaps in our system. All of this — navigating family planning services — these are big big issues we are aiming to address with this.”

The Reproductive Justice Fund was approved in the city’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget, but several council members expressed frustration that city staff’s presentation said the contracts to spend the money would not be finalized until spring of 2025.

After the council briefing, Woo said she hopes they’ll be able to move faster.

“I’m a cog in this, but what I understand is that with all of this feedback, we’re able to go back to all of those other departments and say, ‘Hey, what can we do to make this faster?’” Woo said. “And I’m confident we will.”

The council established a $500,000 Reproductive Justice Fund last year. But it faced criticism and a lawsuit over whether it could be used to facilitate out-of-state abortion care.

Woo said they expect to select between four and 10 organizations who apply for funding.

District 6 Councilmember Melissa Cabello Havrda said the fund was critical to support women in the aftermath of the state’s abortion ban.

“Women in Texas are held hostage, some might say falsely imprisoned, against their will when they’re not allowed to access the healthcare they want, they need, and they cannot afford,” she said.

District 8 Councilmember Manny Pelaez, District 9 Councilmember John Courage, and District 10 Councilmember Marc Whyte were the only members of the council to speak out against using tax dollars for out-of-state abortion travel.

“At some point it seems that this council is marching towards the day when we’re going to approve a contract to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on what’s being called the reproductive justice fund,” Whyte said. “This fund is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s taxpayer funded abortion.”

Some of the funds may be used for travel expenses for residents to obtain out-of-state abortions, but none of the dollars would be used to pay for abortion services.

Protestors at the San Antonio City Council meeting discussing the Reproductive Justice Fund.
Josh Peck
Protestors at the San Antonio City Council meeting discussing the Reproductive Justice Fund.

How the money is ultimately spent depends on which organizations apply for funding, what they say they will do with the funding, and then what council approves.

Courage said providing funding for travel would put the council down a slippery slope that would be impossible to support.

“If somebody wanted to go get the best cancer treatment, one of the best in the country, they would probably go to Houston,” he said. “The City of San Antonio would not pay for their cost to go to Houston.”

But District 1 Councilmember Sukh Kaur said the difference is that she and her colleagues aren’t seeking to give residents access to care that is somewhat better than what’s available in San Antonio — they’re fighting to offer access to care that is impossible to get anywhere in the state.

“This is not us pushing for the best healthcare or just saying that this is a luxury service,” Kaur said. “This is a basic service and necessity that a lot of our residents just don’t have access to right now.”

She, McKee-Rodriguez, and District 5 Councilmember Teri Castillo said they wanted to push for additional city dollars for the fund for next year’s fiscal budget, which is being developed over the summer and will be voted on in the early fall.

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City Manager Erik Walsh said city staff would determine between now and June 24 whether the applications would be open to both for-profit and nonprofit entities or if it would be restricted to nonprofits.