Feb 9, 2023 - Politics

San Antonio to vote on decriminalizing abortion

Illustration of a pencil filling in a ballot with the checkbox in the shape of the state of Texas.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

San Antonio voters will say on May 6 whether they think the city should decriminalize abortion and low-level marijuana possession and make other police reforms permanent — but city officials say they couldn't enforce most of those changes.

Why it matters: San Antonio could be the first city in Texas to offer a legal test on decriminalizing abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, triggering a state law that prohibits abortion in Texas.

Driving the news: Organizers needed at least 20,000 signatures from registered city voters to place the charter amendment on the ballot. The city verified 20,973 signatures by Wednesday, city spokesperson Laura Mayes tells Axios.

Context: The police reform nonprofit Act 4 SA worked with other progressive groups to gather the signatures in support of placing the charter amendment on the city ballot.

  • They turned in more than 38,000 signatures last month.

What they're saying: "These policies will save lives by limiting unnecessary interactions with police that can lead to serious injury or even death — as we have seen recently with the shooting of Erik Cantu and death of Tyre Nichols," Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, said in a statement.

  • "San Antonio voters will have the chance to pass the first major abortion rights initiative to be put in front of voters since Roe v. Wade was overturned," Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, said in a statement.

Details: The charter amendment would:

  • Prevent officers from investigating or making arrests for abortions.
  • Halt citations and arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
  • Ban police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
  • Expand cite-and-release policy to direct officers to cite, not arrest, people for certain nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, including theft.

State of play: Some of the proposed policies, such as the ban on police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, are already on the books. Last summer, the City Council also directed police not to use public resources to investigate abortions.

Yes, but: City officials said almost all the provisions of the charter amendment are governed by state law and unenforceable. If the amendment passes, it would not make abortion or marijuana legal in San Antonio, per a city press release.

Between the lines: The charter amendment has the potential to impact City Council elections. All 10 district seats and Mayor Ron Nirenberg will be on the ballot.

  • Proponents hope the amendment will bring out younger voters in its favor. That could bolster support for progressive council members, including East Side Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and West Side Councilmember Teri Castillo.
  • But Republicans are organizing opposition to the amendment that could boost conservative turnout, per the San Antonio Report.

What's next: The San Antonio Police Officers' Association is expected to fight the amendment.

  • Police union members think the charter amendment will make it harder to keep the community safe, president Danny Diaz previously told Axios.

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