What happened in Texas this week is widespread news by now. The Lone Star state has outlawed abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before many women even know they’re pregnant.
The law, known as Senate Bill 8 (SB8), officially went into effect at midnight Sept. 1, and Texas abortion providers were scrambling to treat patients up until the last minute. At the same time, pro-choice advocates everywhere were waiting on bated breath for the Supreme Court to intervene. However, that didn’t happen. And as of this publication, the law still stands.
Texas was one state that used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to restrict women’s rights, as well, with Gov. Greg Abbott attempting to curb abortion care completely by falsely not classifying abortion as necessary care.
Texas isn’t alone in attempting to outlaw or severely restrict abortion. Hundreds of similar restrictions have made their way through state legislatures, though SB8 is the most restrictive law in the country. The vast majority of these types of laws––which do everything from force doctors’ offices to meet unnecessary and burdensome requirements to introduce new cut-off limits––are overturned through the courts before they go into effect, often at the last minute.
What else is different about this law?
It hasn’t been overturned. Texas reproductive rights groups asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the unconstitutional law, but the court ruled 5-4 that the groups hadn’t made their case. Three Supremes appointed by President Donald Trump sided with the other two conservative judges on the court. However, the unsigned opinion left opportunity for more lawsuits to come, and pro-choice groups could kick the case to a lower state court.
It is likely the case will be overturned, in line with previous precedent in other states. As we wait for that day to come, women in Texas will suffer without access to fundamental health care.
In addition, the law is unique in that it allows regular people to be the enforcers. Most laws are enforced by state or federal officials, but the Texas law enables anyone to sue abortion clinics and individuals for providing or aiding and abetting abortions performed after six weeks. That makes the law harder to fight––and that’s by design to harm women while the law remains in effect.
“The dystopian law is intended to evade legal challenge by deputizing any private citizen to act as a bounty hunter, spy on their neighbors, and secure a reward of $10,000 or more for successfully suing someone who helps a person seeking abortion care after about six weeks of pregnancy,” NARAL wrote in a press release.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented in the Texas law decision Wednesday night, said he would have halted the law from going into effect so that lower courts could even decide if “a state can avoid responsibility for its laws.’
What happens next?
With Texas taking such an intense anti-women stance, it’s clear a federal law is needed to guarantee the constitutional right to abortion care services. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced Sept. 2 that the House of Representatives would vote on the Woman’s Health Protection Act, which safeguards the right to abortion in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“SB8 delivers catastrophe to women in Texas, particularly women of color and women from low-income communities,” Pelosi said Thursday. “Every woman, everywhere has the constitutional right to basic health care. SB8 is the most extreme, dangerous abortion ban in half a century, and its purpose is to destroy Roe v. Wade, and even refuses to make exceptions for cases of rape and incest. This ban necessitates codifying Roe v. Wade.”
Virtually all abortion advocates also vowed to continue fighting the law this week.
“The Supreme Court has ignored 50 years of precedent and allowed abortion to become nearly impossible for patients to access in Texas,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “The impact of this heinous abortion ban cannot be understated. We’ll never stop fighting to get our patients the care they need. #BansOffOurBodies.”
President Joe Biden has also voiced his opposition to the law, though he has not specified any actions he or his administration will take beyond calling for the codification of Roe v. Wade through Congress.
“This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday.
Texas Ain’t Done Yet
While the law itself is devastating and infuriating, there’s even more bad news coming out of Texas. The state also approved a law that another law this week that would limit abortion-inducing pills and prevent doctors from prescribing the medication to patients who are more than seven week pregnant. Currently, doctors can prescribe the medication for women who are up to 10 weeks pregnant.
Medication abortion procedures have become instrumental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, as women limited their exposure to the virus at health care facilities.
Further, Texas’ gall to take away women’s rights is being closely followed by other states, including Florida. Republican lawmakers in the Sunshine State announced they will pursue copycat legislation this week––and others may follow suit.