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After Wheeler Retools Response to Texas Abortion Law, City Council Votes to Use $200,000 From Fall Budget for Abortion Infrastructure

The flimsiness of Wheeler’s original resolution and pushback from advocates telling the mayor’s office it wasn’t a robust method of supporting reproductive rights produced a rethink.

After abortion rights advocates met with staffers from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office last Friday about the mayor’s proposed emergency resolution to halt further city business with Texas companies, Wheeler retooled his response to the stringent new Texas abortion ban.

Wheeler proposed in an agenda item released Tuesday afternoon that $200,000 of the general budget this fall go toward reproductive rights organizations.

The Portland City Council approved it Wednesday morning.

“I’ve heard some say that this is not an issue that should come before the [council], and I’ve heard some suggest that this issue has no bearing on our local community,” Wheeler said before voting yes. “I want to be clear; I could not disagree more. If this Texas law restricting the rights of women is allowed to stand, it will spread to other states, and it will jeopardize Roe v. Wade and it will impact our constituents.”

Commissioner Mingus Mapps was the sole council member to vote against the resolution. His criticisms mirrored what Wheeler mentioned in his remarks about the opposition he’d heard.

He tells WW that’s because the city should be pouring all of its resources into the city’s “multiple crises,” including houselessness, record gun violence, and the climate crisis—not an item that is “frankly not in our wheelhouse.”

“At a time when we have scarce resources, we should really focus in on what the people of Portland sent us in here to do,” Mapps said. “There was not adequate public notification or an opportunity for public input on this. The public learned about this 5 o’clock Tuesday, and council voted on it at noon today.”

During Wednesday morning’s meeting, Mapps asked that his fellow commissioners delay the vote by a week to allow for public comment. His motion was not seconded.

When WW first reported on the closed-door meeting of abortion rights advocates, city staffers, and two leaders in the mayor’s office last week, Mapps had the same stance. He told WW that Portland has a host of issues that his constituents are begging him and other City Council members to address, and that pouring money into another state does not center the needs of Portland citizens.

Wheeler initially proposed an emergency ordinance on Sept. 1 that would halt all further city business contracts with Texas companies and stop all city travel to Texas until the law was repealed. But the flimsiness of that plan and pushback from abortion rights advocates telling the mayor’s office it wasn’t a robust method of supporting people seeking abortion pushed the mayor to rethink the proposal.

Wheeler said that abortion activists told his office that halting city business with Texas and banning city employee travel there “might be punitive to Texans who might be most affected by the legislation.”

“While I still believe that our plan wold been an appropriate and strong course of action to take, over the [weekend] we heard from other service providers who represent women’s rights,” Wheeler said at the City Council meeting Wednesday. “They disagreed with some elements of our strategy...they proposed alternative means of actions, and we revised our approach.”

This time around, the proposal was clearer: Give hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that help people access abortions.

The impact statement for the resolution noted that “feedback from several reproductive rights organizations and stakeholders has been integrated into this resolution,” including NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Northwest Abortion Access Fund, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.

Questions still remain about the city’s final version of the resolution, however.

Mapps said his understanding of the $200,000 is that it will be used to fly Texan women seeking abortions to states that allow them, though he concedes he felt the details of the allocation were “certainly underexplained.”

“Women from Texas who find themselves pregnant will travel to states, including Oregon, to seek abortion services. I believe the [money] will help pay for the cost of those services here in Oregon,” Mapps said. “I didn’t see anything written down in terms of that, but when I pressed staff and council members, that seems to be the answer.”

The proposal did not expand on which organizations would be awarded funds, and whether they were located in Oregon, Texas or elsewhere in the U.S.

Office of Management and Finance spokeswoman Heather Hafer told WW the organizations would be decided on “later in the year as part of the city’s budget fall budget monitoring process.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to questions about the location of organizations or whether they would serve Portlanders or out-of-state residents seeking abortions.