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West Texas group plans to start its first abortion access fund

Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Demonstrators speak at the Brewster County courthouse on June 24, 2022, the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

After a recent court ruling eased abortion rights advocates’ legal concerns about helping people access the procedure outside of Texas, a Big Bend area group says it will start its first abortion fund focused on helping people travel to states like New Mexico where abortion is still legal.

As the Texas Tribune has reported, existing abortion funds across the state have in recent weeks resumed paying for the procedure outside of Texas after a federal judge’s February court ruling suggested such groups are likely safe from criminal charges under state law.

In an email newsletter this month, the advocacy group Big Bend Reproductive Coalition said it had retained its first attorney focused on reproductive rights and would soon launch an abortion access and legal defense fund for the region.

Lisa Kettyle, one of the group’s founders, said in an interview the coalition is consulting with its attorney and should have a more concrete plan in place for the new fund by the end of April.

“We won’t know until the end of the month exactly what that looks like for us, but the second we’re able to establish that fund, we will,” she said. “The goal of that fund is to help people get out of state to go to New Mexico or other states where abortion is legal.”

Kettyle said the group hopes to help people pay for all potential costs - from abortion care itself and travel to the cost of missing work for the procedure.

Texas is already home to multiple abortion funds, but the one Kettyle’s group is starting would apparently be the first specifically dedicated to helping people from the Big Bend region access the procedure.

The group doesn’t yet have a particular fundraising goal in mind for the fund, Kettyle said.

“It depends on what demand looks like,” she said. “We are in touch with the clinics in New Mexico, we know how much appointments cost, we know how much hotels in that area cost, we’ve just done a lot of research in preparation for this while we’ve been waiting for the legal gray areas to get sorted out.”

Texas abortion rights supporters have already successfully helped people access the procedure outside the state. As KERA has reported, one group helped more than 20 Texans obtain the procedure within a few weeks after February’s court ruling on the matter.

Still, since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, some anti-abortion activists have signaled that they think it would be appropriate for state laws banning abortion to target people who help with out-of-state abortions.

Prominent Texas abortion opponent Mark Lee Dickson, who has spearheaded campaigns to enact “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinances in small towns across Texas recently claimed that such ordinances could pose legal risks to abortion funds, saying many of them ban abortions regardless of “where abortion is performed.”

“Violators can be sued by any private citizen,” Dickson said in a Twitter post in March. “Abortion funds really should read local ordinances carefully!”

Lawmakers in some Republican-controlled states have already started approving measures aimed at blocking people’s ability to get abortions in other states, though it’s far from clear if those efforts will hold up in court.

“We haven’t seen the cases, we haven’t seen full rulings that clarify this question of aiding and abetting an abortion outside the state,” said John Seago, head of the advocacy group Texas Right to Life.

Seago noted that a preliminary junction component of February’s court ruling that eased abortion funds’ legal concerns about helping people obtain the procedure outside of Texas only specifically blocked a handful of district attorneys from pursuing cases against the funds.

“You have several DAs out there that are not affected by that injunction,” he said.

Texas lawmakers are currently considering multiple abortion-related bills this legislative session, including one that would ban government entities from providing “logistical support” for abortions. The bill, apparently aimed at the City of Austin, would ban local governments from providing everything from travel and lodging to providing food to a person seeking an abortion. It’s not clear if the law could be legally applied to abortions performed outside Texas.

Kettyle, with the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition, said the swirling legal uncertainty around out-of-state abortions is why her group plans to start a legal defense fund alongside its first abortion fund.

“It’s not illegal to leave the state to get [an abortion], but should something happen, we want to be able to support people that way as well,” she said.

Editor’s note: Lisa Kettyle is a former employee of Marfa Public Radio.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.