After court ruling, Big Bend Reproductive Coalition looks to establish abortion fund

BIG BEND REGION — The Big Bend Reproductive Coalition is moving towards establishing an abortion fund, which would provide financial support for Big Bend residents traveling across state lines for the procedure.

The coalition, primarily an information-sharing initiative, is making the pivot to funding in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling that indicates abortion funds in Texas are likely safe from prosecution under state law. It’s an enormous relief, said BBRC co-founder Lisa Kettyle, as the group has always hoped to establish a fund that could cover travel expenses as well as medical expenses for locals seeking an abortion.

“The goal is to fund procedures or medications, to fund travel, to fund if somebody has to miss work in order to travel —  anything that they would need that would impede them being able to access services out of state,” said Kettyle. “And that’s not something we’ve been able to do because the laws have been so chaotic.”

With the recent ruling, however, “it was pretty clear to us that the way is clear to be able to do that legally,” said Kettyle.

The lawsuit in question had been brought by abortion advocacy groups against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and several Texas prosecutors in an attempt to preserve their ability to fund out-of-state abortions, fearing prosecution amidst statewide bans. In February, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman dismissed Paxton from the suit, stating he had no authority to enforce Texas’ laws out of state, and filed a temporary injunction barring prosecutors in eight counties from pursuing charges against anyone who helps someone access abortion outside of Texas.

Following the ruling, as reported by The Texas Tribune, some abortion advocacy groups in Texas have resumed existing abortion funds they had put on hold.

For the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition, which just launched last summer in response to the anticipated reversal of Roe v. Wade, the ruling paves the way for the group’s first foray into establishing such a fund. As it conferences with its legal counsel to finalize an organizational structure, the group will also seek to establish a legal defense fund that would exist to support anyone sued under the Texas “bounty” law, SB 8, which allows citizens to sue those who provide or “aid and abet” an abortion and collect $10,000 if successful. (Notably, the law does not specify whether that aiding and abetting would have to take place within Texas state lines or not, leaving it open to interpretation).

“If somebody were to get arrested, if a law were to change, if the loose interpretations of the law lead to someone having legal issues, we want to make sure that there’s financial support as best we can,” said Kettyle.

Keeping tabs on the shifting legal landscape around abortion in Texas — and nationwide — will be instrumental as the organization decides how to move forward. Lawmakers in other red states are pursuing legislation aimed at prohibiting citizens from obtaining out-of-state abortion services. The matter, in Texas and in those other states, is not fully settled, legally. 

John Seago, head of the advocacy group Texas Right to Life, noted in an interview with Marfa Public Radio that the temporary injunction handed down in February’s ruling applied only to prosecutors in eight counties. “You have several DAs out there that are not affected by that injunction,” Seago told MPR.

Central to BBRC’s mission is keeping citizens informed on abortion laws — on what exactly is and is not legal in the state amidst a confusing back-and-forth in the courts. Most recently, the group sent out a dispatch on the current legal battle around mifepristone, one of two drugs taken to end a pregnancy — while a Texas judge ruled that the FDA had improperly approved the drug two decades ago, the Department of Justice appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that the medication should remain available while its fate is battled out in the courts. 

It is already illegal to provide mifepristone in Texas, but Kettyle clarified that law is focused on providers, like doctors and pharmacists, not anyone taking the medication. 

“It is not illegal to consume the medication,” she said. “It’s not illegal to have it in your medicine cabinet. It’s not illegal to receive it through the mail — though Texas says it is, they can’t control the federal mail — and it’s not illegal to go to another state to receive it.”

This Saturday, the coalition will host a community picnic in Alpine’s Kokernot Park, where food, drinks and educational literature will be provided. The event will kick off at 6 p.m. and go until 8:30 p.m.