Portland City Hall

On Wednesday, Portland City Council voted 4-1 to direct $200,000 toward local organizations that offer reproductive healthcare services as a rebuttal to Texas' anti-abortion legislation, Senate Bill 8, which became law on September 1. The Texas bill effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy (well before people even know they are pregnant) and allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a person obtain an abortion.

The city funds are meant to bolster Portland abortion providers who may see an influx in patients from Texas seeking the procedure.

"This is one small thing," said City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. "Will what we do today fundamentally change the mindset of Texas legislators? Probably not. What it will do is send a strong message to the people of Texas that we won't abandon them because... they have the leadership that they have."

In testimony before City Council, Beth Vial, a board member of Oregon-based Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF), explained how the Texas law's passage has impacted the nonprofit's work, which funds travel, hotel stays, childcare, and other needs for low-income people who obtain an abortion in Oregon—along with coverage of the procedure itself.

"Following the Texas abortion ban, our calls from Texas [to NWAAF] have increased by 400 percent," said Vial. "We anticipate the number will climb and we will have more callers throughout the country as states across the nation seek to enact bans that copy Texas. This situation is an emergency."

The resolution's promised $200,000 will come from the city's general fund, and be officially distributed in grants to yet-to-be-determined organizations during City Council's upcoming fall budget monitoring process.

Along with earmarking funds for local reproductive health organizations, the resolution requires City Council to send a letter to the Oregon members of Congress, urging them to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would enshrine a person's right to abortion within federal law. The resolution also directs the city attorney's office to submit input (as an "amicus," a legal term meaning "friend of the court") to support the US Department of Justice's lawsuit against Senate Bill 8.

Not all city commissioners supported the resolution. City Commissioner Mingus Mapps offered the sole vote in dissent, specifically chiding the use of city dollars.

"I oppose spending $200,000 of Portland taxpayer dollars to fund reproductive care for women in Texas," said Mapps. "Our city is overwhelmed with multiple crises, and this council should focus on solving those. We have a gun violence crisis, we have a homelessness crisis, we have a trash crisis, and we have a pandemic. At times like this I believe the council should focus our resources on solving the problems Portlanders face every day when they leave their homes."

Mapps, whose argument echoed points made earlier by the Oregonian's editorial board, said he backed the resolution's commitment to the legal and policy challenges to the Texas law.

"I see the challenge before us today as an unjust law in the state of Texas," said Mapps. "I think unjust laws require either legislative or judicial responses. I think our goal here should not be a symbolic pushback."

During the Wednesday meeting, Mapps proposed several amendments to cut the expenditure from the resolution, yet he received no support from fellow commissioners to move them forward.

"I've heard some say that this is not an issue that should come before the Portland City Council," said Mayor Ted Wheeler. "And I've heard some suggest that this issue has no bearing on our local community. I could not disagree more. If this Texas law is allowed to stand, it will spread to other states and it will jeopardize Roe v Wade, and it will impact our constituents in the city of Portland."

Wheeler noted that City Council has, in the past, passed similar policies that support individuals seeking refuge in Portland—including city budget allocations that cover legal aid for immigrants fighting for asylum in Oregon.

In testimony before council Wednesday, An Do, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, rejected Mapps' argument to limit City Council's response to the judicial system.

"We can no longer rely on a court system, now packed by Trump-nominated judges... to be the backstop to extreme state legislatures bent on banning abortion," Do said. "We must take proactive action in creative ways, including putting forward budgets that reflect our values."

Do said that Portland is the third city—following New York City and Austin—to dedicate municipal dollars to support people seeking an abortion.

The proposal is only the latest iteration of an attempted earlier response by city leaders to Texas' anti-abortion law. On September 3, Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced an emergency city resolution that would prohibit city business travel to Texas and ban purchasing products or services from the state. According to city estimates, this ban would result in Portland withholding about $7 million annually from the Texas economy.

That proposed resolution received quick condemnation from Texas republican leaders and liberal locals alike, with the Oregonian editorial board calling the decision "symbolic" and a distraction from the city's true problems.

The resolution even received pushback from local reproductive rights organizations, who saw the action as misguided.

"The last thing that people in Texas need right now are us to take measures against them," said Christel Allen, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, in a Tuesday interview with the Mercury.

Allen said that her organization heard from reproductive health advocates in Texas, who explained that cuts to Texas' economy could disproportionately impact lower-income workers—a population that is also disproportionately impacted by the new anti-abortion bill.

"What we know about abortion bans is that they don't effectively ban abortions, they just push abortions out of reach for those who can't afford it," said Allen. "We should be a city that is welcoming people that have to travel to receive basic health care."

Allen and other Oregon reproductive rights leaders, including those from NWAAF and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, urged City Council to scrap the economic sanctions and instead invest in local organizations that can help people—both Oregonians and out-of-state visitors—who can't easily obtain an abortion. The conversations led to the resolution that passed Wednesday morning.

"They listened... they really heard the feedback," said Allen. "We are so excited that they heard us and that they’re open to not scaling back—but going further."

Hardesty offered rare praise to Wheeler Wednesday for "taking the hits" for his initial proposal and learning from the public criticisms.

"Sometimes a leader has to not listen to their own instincts but listen to the people most impacted," said Hardesty. "Your leadership in this situation has been superb."

Allen said she hoped the city's resolution will act as a guide for other cities in the US wanting to support those harmed by anti-abortion laws in Texas and other states.

"Hopefully it inspires other leaders," said Allen. "Everyone has a role, and we can all step up in different ways. That's what Portland is doing."