About 200 people, most against the contracts, showed up for the public hearing. The vast majority watched the meeting on TV monitors in the hall outside the 55-seat Travis County commissioners courtroom, some cheering speakers and yelling "no" after the vote. Some members of the crowd inside the full meeting room, where they were screened with a wand to gain entry, applauded the vote.
"This is a hard issue for the community ... and for me personally," board member Clarke Heidrick, a lawyer, said. "In my view and in most instances, abortion is wrong."
But because abortions are legal, and "we're not the Supreme Court, we're not Congress, and we're not a church," Heidrick said he believed that continuing the contracts supported the district's mission of providing health services to those who can't afford to pay for care.
The issue, which generated more than 2,000 e-mails, calls and letters to the board — most in opposition — drew more comments than any other the board has considered since voters created the district in May 2004. It also attracted a petition against the contracts from 10,000 people, as well as letters from members of the Austin City Council and state lawmakers from Austin who urged the board to approve the contracts, valued at $450,000.
The board voted to continue contracts with Austin Women's Health Center (also known as Brookside Women's Medical Center) and Whole Woman's Health of Austin, and added Planned Parenthood as a third option.