Austin’s anti-abortion rule you’ve never heard of

This is a free sample of the Austin Politics Newsletter from Aug. 15, 2022. To get DAILY insights on city politics, click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

UPDATE: I need to address a couple errors in my article from yesterday.

In yesterday’s article on animal abortions at the Austin Animal Center, I mistakenly attributed a quote to Commissioner Beatriz Dulzaides:

“I don’t think there’s any more need for discussion. This is a longstanding policy, it’s worked and it’s fundamental to Austin being the largest safe city for animals in the country,” she said. “This is the heart of ‘No Kill.’”

The person who actually made the remarks was Commissioner Kristen Hassen.

Also, Commissioner Ryan Clinton pointed out on Twitter, there is not a blanket prohibition on animal abortions at the Animal Center, but rather the shelter is not allowed to spay animals showing visible signs of pregnancy without first trying to find an individual or rescue organization willing to shelter the pregnant animal and its future litter. I sincerely regret these errors.

The policy is still absurd. It equates animal abortion with animal euthanasia, and it still leads to an increase in the city’s population of orphaned animals.

For instance, Commissioner Paige Nilson, who is seeking to change the ordinance, recalled a recent instance of a parent and a child who look after a colony of cats near their home. They brought in three of them to be spayed but two of them showed signs of pregnancy and one was lactating, so the shelter told the people that they either had to take the cats back to the colony to have their kittens or they would be transferred to Austin Pets Alive to give birth.

Cats, by the way, are typically pregnant for about nine weeks but begin to show signs of pregnancy after about three weeks.

If we have a major surplus of dogs and cats at our shelter, and we have all accepted the premise that spaying and neutering animals to reduce the orphaned animal population is a good thing, then why should the city hesitate to terminate the pregnancies of stray animals?

Last week activists and medical professionals raised concerns about an uncompromising anti-abortion policy that has been in city code for over a decade. Their pleas to reverse the policy fell largely on deaf ears and even drew condemnation from members of the city commission they were addressing. The commission in question, whose members are appointed by Council members, voted decisively to keep the policy in place.

I’m talking of course about the Animal Advisory Commission’s debate over Section 3-1-26 (D) of the city code, which prohibits the Austin Animal Center from spaying a pregnant animal. Spaying a pregnant animal terminates the pregnancy.

CM Chito Vela’s appointee to the commission, Paige Nilson, a veterinarian, opened the conversation with photos of some of the 115 puppies and 158 kittens (under 6 months) currently at the shelter. There are an additional 41 puppies and 191 kittens in foster care.

She recounted instances of people who look after “community cats” being rebuffed by the shelter when they bring the cats in to be spayed. Instead of quickly spaying the cat and returning it to its habitat, the shelter holds on to the pregnant feline until it gives birth to a litter of kittens that now must be cared for.

Two cats up for adoption at the Austin Animal Shelter.

“I full support saving the lives of puppies and kittens,” Nilson said, “but saving the lives of puppies and kittens is different from being forced to allow pregnancies to proceed through labor and birth without being able to apply individual discretion to each scenario.”

She couldn’t find any other example of a shelter with such a policy.

Nilson’s comments were followed by those of two volunteers –– including one self-described “crazy cat lady” –– who look after colonies of feral cats. Both urged the city to allow abortions for pregnant cats.

Luis Herrera, a professional dog trainer appointed to the commission by Mackenzie Kelly, also endorsed abortions, saying that puppies born into stressful circumstances at the shelter often have serious behavioral problems.

None of this appeared to sway the majority of the commission and a couple members were offended by the very notion of allowing animal abortions.

Commissioner Ryan Clinton, a county appointee to the panel, called for the protection of “the animals in utero” and suggested that allowing abortions would actually aggravate the animal center’s space crisis. Currently, he said, a pregnant stray animal can be sent to Austin Pets Alive, which “supports saving the lives of those in utero puppies and kittens.” The nonprofit would not accept a spayed adult animal, he said, forcing the city shelter to lodge it.

“Repealing this ordinance is flying in the face of ‘No Kill’,” said Nancy Nemer, an appointee of the county commissioners court. “I can’t help but feel this is a knee-jerk reaction from the parties, including the Austin Animal Center, to try and reduce their responsibility in this whole overcrowding situation.”

Nemer added that the center is less crowded than it has been in the past.

Commissioner Kristen Hassen seemed similarly frustrated that the topic was even being broached.

“I don’t think there’s any more need for discussion. This is a longstanding policy, it’s worked and it’s fundamental to Austin being the largest safe city for animals in the country,” she said. “This is the heart of ‘No Kill.’”

The motion to recommend repealing the abortion prohibition failed, 4-7.

Are these pro-lifers vegetarians?

I’m sympathetic to the cause of animal welfare. I was a vegetarian for much of my childhood and for the past couple years I’ve been a pescatarian; I think the horrific conditions animals are subjected to in factory farming are indefensible.

And yet, it’s obvious to me that providing indefinite shelter to stray dogs and cats is not even close to the top priority of city government, especially when there are so many human beings without shelter.

What’s so odd about the politics of animal rights in Austin (and most of America, frankly) is that many of the same people who could never fathom giving up food that is the product of torture also believe that we should spare no expense to keep every stray cat or dog alive.

But while Austin’s no-kill policy probably isn’t grounded in a particularly coherent ethical framework, it probably reflects public sentiment. People aren’t willing to pull the plug on cats and dogs.

I can’t imagine, however, that most voters are against dog and cat abortions. I can’t believe I even have to say it, but City Council should repeal this prohibition. It’s bad on every level. It burdens city taxpayers with even more animals to care for and it ultimately undermines animal welfare by leading to overcrowding at the shelter. This is an embarrassment.

This is a free sample of the Austin Politics Newsletter from Aug. 15, 2022. To get DAILY insights on city politics, click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

One thought on “Austin’s anti-abortion rule you’ve never heard of

  1. Thank you for writing exactly the article I wanted to write after watching that embarrassment myself.

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