Anti-abortion law: What it means for the women of Texas

By Charlotte Robinson

SENATE Bill 8’s passing has been widely condemned as succumbing to “anti-abortion extremists,” activists have said.

The US Supreme Court decided last Thursday to allow the Texas law which effectively bans abortions after 6 weeks to remain in place.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the ‘heartbeat bill’ into law in May of this year, and last Monday, abortion providors asked the court to block it. 

But the conservative court voted 5-4 to keep it, and Chief Justice John Roberts found himself in an increasingly familiar position – on the side of the liberals.

Efforts to challenge the bill will be complicated by a peculiar feature of it. State officials cannot enforce the law, instead it will allow private citizens to sue any person who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion”, for up to $10,000.

The Supreme Court’s decision highlights the absence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the consequences of Trump’s appointees, and represents a kowtowing to the Christian right at the expense of women’s agency over their bodies.

“Senate bill 8 is really about succumbing to the wishes of anti-abortion extremists”, Caroline Duble, the political director of abortion rights group Avow Texas told Redaction Report.

“This is decimating the already vulnerable care infrastructure in place, and most importantly its leaving Texans who need access to care and support services scared to ask for help, and advocates like me afraid to help them.”

The women of Texas are now left with few options – carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, go out of state for an abortion, or perform an abortion without medical support.

The latter is dangerous and unthinkable in 21st century America, but as the old adage goes – you cannot ban abortions, only safe ones.

Carrying an unwanted child is equally as difficult to comprehend, none more so than for the men who support this bill. 

The idea that men can have such authority over the reproductive systems of women has sparked widespread anger and despair.

The option to travel to another state for an abortion will be one reserved only for a select few – those who can afford the petrol, the time, the childcare, and the time off work. As with many other things, this is a law that punishes the poor and the non-white more.

Under the bill, patients themselves would not be held liable, but partners, families, medical professionals – even an Uber driver who takes a woman to the hospital – could all have legal action taken against them.

“It’s clearly targeted at the support network of the pregnant person – it’s about cutting off access so that someone feels isolated and alone as they’re seeking care”, Duble says.

And women who experience a miscarriage after the 6 week mark – could those who support them be sued as well?

“Technically yes. Under this law you don’t need any evidence or proof to file a lawsuit,” explains Duble. Shamefully, even if the sued party is found to be compliant with the law, they will not be able to recuperate their attorney fees.

Even more shameful is the attempt of pro-lifers to reframe what is thought of as a viable pregnancy.

Describing it as a ‘heartbeat bill’ is deceiving. The moniker references the ability to detect an embryo’s cardiac activity first at 6 weeks – but medical experts have long held that an embryo does not have a developed heart 6 weeks into a pregnancy.

So for many Americans, and those elsewhere across the globe, the decision came as a shock – it shouldn’t have. The ruling may have been shocking, but it certainly wasn’t surprising.

Since the moment the landmark Roe v Wade decision came down on January 22 1973, lawmakers and anti-abortion activists have been chipping away at the law in the hopes of breaking it apart completely.

The current political climate in the US – even with a Biden Presidency – and specifically in Texas, has created the right conditions for such a bill to pass into law. However the court is yet to decide on its constitutionality, and so the law could still be banned further down the line.

The decision marks the start of a lengthy legal battle, but it also augments the debate around expanding the Supreme Court. The topic had been discussed in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, but that fire later died down – this has thrown gasoline over it.

Trump curated – well appointed – a court which decided a law violating the constitutional right to an abortion could remain in place. He also provoked millions worldwide to march in protest of his treatment of women – will this bill spark such similar protests?

For the women of Texas, this marks a painful blip in the moral arc of the universe. Within the context of women’s rights, it currently bends towards suppression rather than justice. 

Featured Image: Lorie Shaull @Flickr

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