Can Austin City Limit Abortion Criminalization? | Crooked Media
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June 06, 2022
What A Day
Can Austin City Limit Abortion Criminalization?

In This Episode

  • As abortion access continues to decline on the local level, lawmakers and advocates across the country are devising new ways to protect abortion access as much as they can, where they can. Chito Vela, an Austin City Councilmember, joins us to discuss what he’s doing to decriminalize abortion in Austin, Texas, should Roe be overturned.
  • And in headlines: Seven states have primary elections today, a federal grand jury charged five members of the Proud Boys with seditious conspiracy, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative members of Parliament.


Show Notes:



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Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, June 7th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What A Day, where we are holding Elon Musk to his contract of never purchasing our podcast.


Gideon Resnick: That’s right. We’re filled with bots. We have more bots than Twitter.


Josie Duffy Rice: We are. Yeah, we have so many bots.


Gideon Resnick: You don’t want to get near it.


Josie Duffy Rice: And also we’re more expensive than Twitter, so . . .


Gideon Resnick: Exactly. 45 billion is a starting offer. We will go from there.


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, we preview some of the primaries to watch taking place across the country today. Plus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a no-confidence vote from within his own party.


Gideon Resnick: But first, we’re going to look at how abortion access is declining on a local level, even before the Supreme Court issues a likely decision that will effectively overturn Roe v. Wade. In states like Oklahoma, for example, which has become the first state in the country to outlaw abortion, quite nearly entirely, clinics that had previously been serving clients coming from other states like Texas are now quiet. That’s according to a story from The Washington Post that we’ll link to that gets into the scenes at some of these facilities.


Josie Duffy Rice: Meanwhile, money that had been allocated for travel funds to help people get from one state to another with better access is running short in some cases as well. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, money that had been designated to help Texans already wasn’t enough prior to the passage of Oklahoma’s ban, and now that it’s been passed, those people will have to travel even farther in the future, meaning the funds will require more resources. The report says that in 2019, the National Network of Abortion Funds could only support about 26% of the requests they received. The issue could be compounded as well, because other neighboring states, like New Mexico, might not have the resources necessary to support an influx of people coming in. This is all happening, mind you, while public polling has recently shown that in many instances, support for abortion rights has hit new records.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, thankfully, in the midst of this, lawmakers and advocates across the country are devising new ways to protect abortion access as much as they can, wherever they can. For example, in Austin, City Council member Chito Vela has proposed a resolution to decriminalize abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade gets overturned and a trigger law that has been passed in Texas goes into effect. So, Josie, I spoke with Vela about the resolution last week and started by asking him to walk us through what this would do.


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: The first thing is that it will designate any alleged abortion crime as the lowest priority for the police department, meaning the police should not be focusing on these. They should be handling other, more urgent priorities before they ever touch anything related to any abortion-type crime. And the second thing that the resolution will do is it will limit the use of city funds for any investigation regarding any alleged abortion crime, meaning that we don’t want the police to be creating an abortion crimes task force or, you know, an abortion crimes kind of database or anything like that. We don’t want them to be staffing it up. You know, obviously, if someone files a report, we have to take that report. But we don’t want really much to be done after the report is made.


Gideon Resnick: And do you have the votes necessary and the support necessary to get this passed at this point?


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: We do. Austin City Council is, generally speaking, very supportive of abortion rights. We do have to be careful just because we may have some conflict with the state. And so we just want to kind of thread that needle very carefully and try to make a resolution and policies that are as legally defensible as possible.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, to that end, how can you legally, on the local level, on the city level, circumvent Texas state laws that are banning abortions?


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: We’re not legalizing it per se. You know, in other words, the resolution is not saying that, oh, abortion will be legal in Texas. So we’re not going to be in direct conflict with Texas law. We’re just saying that for our city, for the Austin Police Department purposes, that we want these types of investigations, alleged crimes, to be at the lowest possible priority. That in and of itself is not in direct conflict with state law. Every police department in the state decides what its priority enforcement will be. And there is also precedent for this in the resolution that was passed regarding marijuana. The city of Austin passed a resolution saying basically that we want those to be the lowest-priority crimes and we do not want police arresting people for those types of crimes. And that worked.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and to that end, I’m curious, are there other protective resolutions in Austin that have to do with abortion, reproductive rights at this point already?


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: So the city has a track record of supporting abortion rights and helping to provide abortion services. And then recently, my co-sponsor of the resolution, Vanessa Fuentes, my colleague on city council also put forward a nondiscrimination resolution, making sure that there was no discrimination, that we will not be holding that against anybody with regard to the provision of city services, to employment, to really a whole slew of matters that are kind of under the city’s jurisdiction. And so we’re trying to set up a framework to minimize the damage that could potentially be done, that will be done honestly if Roe v. Wade is ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court.


Gideon Resnick: And do you anticipate other cities within the state trying to kind of replicate that framework? And what would the implications of that be?


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: I really hope so. There is strength in numbers and we’re communicating with other organizations around the state. And we want this to be a model for, you know, Houston can use, that Dallas can use, that San Antonio can use, that any other city in Texas that wants to fight this fight, we want them to just cut and paste.


Gideon Resnick: Do you anticipate getting any backlash from Governor Abbott and if so, how would you counter that?


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: I mean, the quick answer is yes! in particular, I would anticipate getting some backlash potentially from our attorney general, Ken Paxton, who is currently under a felony indictment, but won his Republican primary, honestly, in a rout. But this is policy guidance. It’s just saying that this is how we want to run our city. These are our priorities within the city. We’re not in direct conflict with state law. We’re not superseding state law. We’re just saying that within the city of Austin, this is not our criminal justice priority. We have other priorities. So right now, I mean, there’s no conflict with state law. So I don’t anticipate kind of a lawsuit or anything like that. They’re very creative, though, too, you know? And the Texas legislature only meets every other year for 140 days, and they will be in session starting January of 2023 and I am sure there will be some type of movement, some type of reaction, some kind of response from your real conservative Republican members. We’re doing the best we can to draft in such a way where it hopefully doesn’t get overturned. And we’re ready to fight in the legislature. I mean, we have a lot of allies. We’re already talking with them and I feel pretty good about mounting a very vigorous defense against anything that’s moving through the legislature.


Gideon Resnick: And to sort of, like, ground this conversation in what’s most important, which is the impact on members in your community, how have they been thinking about and responding to the prospect of how life could change when and if Roe is overturned?


Jose ‘Chito’ Vela: I think people are horrified. It’s already bad enough right now. My staff and I were just touring a clinic where we went into the adolescent ward and they are really concerned for their patients and their ability to access reproductive health care to, you know, plan B, all of those kinds of things are at issue. And then beyond that, we’re afraid of the impact to our LGBT brothers and sisters as well. You know, Roe v. Wade established the right to privacy and the right to privacy essentially forms the constitutional basis for gay marriage. And so many others! It forms the constitutional basis for birth control. So it’s not just abortion rights that are threatened. It’s a whole spectrum of rights that surround Roe v. Wade that are threatened. On the other hand, we’ve gotten tremendous support from my constituents, from the broader Austin community, from my colleagues, from so many other folks who are horrified. I just never thought that we would be in the position that we’re in today. But here we are, and we’ve got to stand up and fight.


Gideon Resnick: That was my conversation with Austin City Councilmember Chito Vela. We’ll have more on this resolution, as well as the future of abortion access over the days and weeks to come, but that is the latest for now. We are going to be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: Seven states have primary elections today, that’s California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. In California, there are a couple of key races we’re watching, and one of them is the Los Angeles mayoral race. Among the candidates running as billionaire mall kingpin Rick Caruso, a former Republican turned Democrat, on paper, but not in practice. He joined the race pretty late, but has since spent $23 million of his own money to fuel his last minute pro-cop campaign. And he’s now neck and neck with progressive Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass for the city’s top spot. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, there’s a recall vote for progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin, who he had on the show a few weeks ago. While San Francisco is considered liberal, the recall election has been funded largely by right-wing donors who blame Boudin for a rise in crime, despite the fact that San Francisco mirrors much of the rest of the country in terms of crime trends, including those thousands of places with extremely tough-on-crime prosecutors. Finally, over in New Mexico, incumbent Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is up for reelection. Several GOP candidates have flooded the race in hopes to flip that seat, and one of their frontrunners is a former television meteorologist who denies climate change.


Gideon Resnick: I will say that it is good that the adjective ‘former’ is in there. If we’re going to have to say that a person of that sort exists with those [unclear], you’d rather it be former I suppose.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. It’s true.


Gideon Resnick: A big loss for the men who aspire to be walking cans of Monster energy drink but more misogynistic, a federal grand jury charged five members of the Proud Boys, including their leader, Enrique Tarrio, with seditious conspiracy yesterday for their role in last year’s insurrection. The indictment makes the Proud Boys, the second far right group to have members hit with the rare charge reserved for those who plot to overthrow the US government. Lest we forget, the Oath Keepers set the trend earlier this year when their founder, Stewart Rhodes, and ten of his besties were charged with it as well. Before this, Tarrio was already facing charges of conspiracy to obstruct a federal proceeding, resisting Capitol Police, and destroying government property despite not physically being at the riots. But this new sedition charge alleges that he carefully planned the actions of his four henchman/co-defendants that were there that day, one of whom is the first to break one of the building’s windows using a shield he stole from a police officer. Monday’s indictment shows how the Department of Justice is widening the scope of its criminal probes to account for extremist groups that coordinated with each other ahead of the insurrection. And it comes just days before the first televised January 6th House hearing, scheduled for this Thursday.


Josie Duffy Rice: Boris Johnson just showed a generation of unruly British teens that it’s not the end of the world when you get caught partying. The U.K. prime minister survived a no-confidence vote among conservative members of parliament yesterday, stemming from his attendance of several illegal social gatherings during lockdown. 148 Conservative members of parliament voted to remove Johnson from office, short of the 180 that were needed for a majority. Still, Johnson is very much in the doghouse, or, as they say in England, in Ye Olde House of Dogs.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, they do.


Josie Duffy Rice: Famously say that in England. His approval rating is around 27%, which is also my approval rating in England.


Gideon Resnick: Interesting.


Josie Duffy Rice: He was booed this weekend at the Queen’s Jubilee. And historically conservative prime ministers who are the subject of a no-confidence vote are usually ousted within a few months. So the odds are very much stacked against him, but Johnson’s famous shaggy-headed swagger seems to be intact. Following yesterday’s vote, he told his party, quote, “I will lead you to victory again, and the winners will be the people of this country.”–I also told that to all of the U.K. yesterday.


Gideon Resnick: This is a long-running way for Josie to inform us that she is challenging Johnson, I suppose, for the role of Prime Minister.


Josie Duffy Rice: We both have a 27% approval rating, so I think it’s going to go great.


Gideon Resnick: Right. We need to get your numbers up for sure. A crushing defeat this weekend in the world of doctors who get turned into vampires: the film Morbius did terribly at the box office after its studio Sony made the unusual decision to bring it back to theaters for a second time. Backing up for those of you who have not been inducted into the Morb-verse as we have, Morbius is a Spider-Man spinoff starring Jared Leto as the bloodthirsty doctor Michael Morbius, which was panned virtually by everyone when it first hit theaters in April. It notched a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics noting its, quote, “uninspired effects, rote performances, and borderline nonsensical story”–though they didn’t say anything about the costumes, so those could be amazing. In spite of this reception, or perhaps because of it, internet users saw something special in Morbius. Memes soon filled the air like the doctor’s beloved bats, and the movie took on a new life when a 24-7 stream of it went viral on Twitch last month, complete with an active comment section, which introduced thousands to the fan-generated catchphrase, “It’s Morbin’ time”–you know, the thing that we’ve been saying all week. A campaign called #Morbiussweep began, hoping the movie would dominate at the Oscars. Fans proposed sequels like “Morbius: The Rise of Morbius”, and eventually Jared Leto himself and big brands like KFC made posts and tried to get in on the fun–by which, of course, I mean, they ruined the fun. Now, Sony clearly hoped that they could drift off the ironic fandom around Morbius to get some actual Morb-heads in the seats, leading them to rerelease the movie on a thousand screens. But it turns out people who love roasting something won’t necessarily pay to see it and the movie brought in just about $85 per screen. That wouldn’t even cover the copay to visit Dr. Morbius–something we would, by the way, never advise despite any ZocDoc reviews you might see–and it tells us that there are more similarities than differences between the overly-confident Icarus and the vampire doctor Morbius.


Josie Duffy Rice: I just want to say that this headline is why people should listen to What A Day. It includes so much: Icarus, KFC.


Gideon Resnick: You’ll learn about Morbin’ Time.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Morbin’ Time. Jared Leto. Like . . .


Gideon Resnick: You’ve been cooped up all week.


Josie Duffy Rice: I have.


Gideon Resnick: Your kids have been talking to you about Mormbin Time.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right.


Gideon Resnick: Like, what is this> Now, you know.


Josie Duffy Rice: Now I know.


Gideon Resnick: I was going to say also the concept of people not paying to see something that they love to roast would also apply to me, if I ever held an event that required money.


Josie Duffy Rice: I would definitely pay to roast you, I’m just saying.


Gideon Resnick: Okay. Interesting. All right, well, maybe there’s a dual event. We get your approval numbers up, we get mine down. It helps muddy the waters in terms of the uh–


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true.


Gideon Resnick: –race in England.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right.


Gideon Resnick: All right. Those are the headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: this Thursday, June 9th, our very own Tre’vell will be co-hosting Pod Save America: Alive and On Tour, at the theater at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Tickets are going fast. Visit to get yours. I would pay to see them in person, and I get to see them every Sunday.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: I would pay to get into the Zoom, to work.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah, I would too. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, enjoy a feminist can of Monster energy drink, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just Morbius fan fiction like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And stay away. Mr. Musk!


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s not Muskin’ Time, it’s Morbin’ Time, and you know the deal. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzy Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.