Last week, the San Antonio City Council approved an amendment targeted at facilities providing abortions, the San Antonio Express News reported. The amendment, supported by anti-choice activists and brought by Councilman Mike Gallagher, uses zoning restrictions to place yet another burden on facilities providing abortions in the city.
Gallagher, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and Councilmembers Alan Warrick, Rebecca Viagran, Ray Lopez, Cris Medina and Joe Krier supported the amendment, leading to its passage. Councilmembers Roberto Treviño, Rey Saldaña, Shirley Gonzales and Ron Nirenberg opposed the measure.
Specifically, the amendment created restrictions on where ambulatory surgical centers, or ASC’s, can be built. Under House Bill 2, the omnibus abortion bill passed in 2013, all facilities that provide abortion services must meet the standards of an ASC in order to remain in operation once the bill is fully implemented. By restricting zoning laws regarding ASC’s, the Council effectively targeted any future abortion providers in the city.
San Antonio’s Unified Development Code, which governs zoning – what kinds of businesses can be built in which areas – does not explicitly mention ASC’s, the San Antonio Express News reported. Under current zoning rules, facilities providing abortions have been built in areas classified for differing levels of commercial use: C-1, C-2, and C-3. The new amendment would prohibit an ASC from being built in a C-1 area without permission from the Zoning Committee and the City Council, both of which will then have to vote on each individual case.
Supporters of the amendment were transparent in their motivations for the move, according to the Express News’ coverage. A new Planned Parenthood facility was recently built in an area zoned as C-1 on Babcock Road, near a residential area. For some proponents of the new zoning rule, the City Council’s amendment was not worded clearly enough. They would have preferred the rules to explicitly mention “abortion facilities” instead of ASCs more broadly.
There are three clinics in San Antonio that currently offer abortion services. Of these three, only the Planned Parenthood facility on Babcock Road was built in a C-1 area. The other two clinics, Alamo Women’s Clinic and Whole Woman’s Health, occupy space in areas designated C-2 and C-3, respectively.
While the amendment was targeted at the Planned Parenthood clinic, it is not retroactive and will not impact that clinic’s ability to provide abortion services to the community.
This move by the San Antonio City Council matters both because it is a local initiative to increase targeted restrictions against abortion providers (commonly referred to as “TRAP laws”) and also because of San Antonio’s strategic importance in maintaining access to abortion for those whose local clinics have closed in the aftermath of House Bill 2. For many living along the border, the clinics in San Antonio are their closest options.
Should the law be fully implemented as passed (which rests with the Supreme Court as it prepares to consider the case challenging certain provisions in the law this spring), the number of clinics providing abortion services could drop below ten in the entire state. In order to increase access, any new clinics would have to built as ASC’s. The Councilmembers who voted for this amendment, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, have set a precedent with potentially disastrous impact on the future of abortion access in Texas.
Though San Antonio, and those communities along the border that rely on its clinics, may have three facilities that will survive the implementation of the bill, the passage of similar laws in other municipalities without such facilities could severely restrict the capacity of providers to expand back into areas that have little to no access today.