Today is a dark day for reproductive freedom in Texas.
On May 19, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed S.B. 8 — the “Texas Heartbeat Act” — into law. The bill bans abortion at six weeks, as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detectable, which is before many people even know they’re pregnant. Today, that law went into effect, cutting off reasonable access to abortion for countless Texans.
This extremely restrictive ban includes an additional — and unusual — clause: The law allows individuals to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers and those who assist people in terminating their pregnancies; this includes those who help by means of financial assistance or even those who provide transportation to clinics, including ride share drivers. If plaintiffs in these civil lawsuits win, they could be awarded up to $10,000 in “damages.” It’s troubling to see lawmakers promote intimidation tactics to thwart people’s basic human rights, and it’s impossible to imagine a similar bill being introduced regarding any other medical procedure.
Whole Women’s Health is one of 20 abortion providers on the defense. In mid-July, the providers filed an emergency request urging the Supreme Court to issue an injunction, stating that “[the bill] would immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas, barring care for at least 85% of Texas abortion patients.” With the law in place, the average one-way driving distance to a clinic will go from 12 miles to 248 miles. The already existing barriers to abortion access (out of pocket cost, lack of paid leave, TRAP laws, etc.) will increase.
In addition to S.B. 8, Gov. Abbott signed a “trigger ban,” in June 2021, that would effectively ban abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court. Texas is among 11 states that have trigger bans on the books. This preemptive strategy should be a warning sign to us all on how fragile abortion rights are in the United States.
Over the past few years, Republican state legislators have tried relentlessly to undermine Roe v. Wade. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 21 states currently have legislation that could restrict abortion access if Roe fell. The Supreme Court is hearing a landmark case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, next month on the constitutionality of a 15-week Mississippi abortion ban that was passed by the legislature in 2018, but that the courts have so far kept from being enforced. If the Court aligns with the state of Mississippi, deciding that states can restrict abortion as early as 15 weeks into pregnancy, it would directly contradict the right to abortion before fetal viability (24 weeks gestation) guaranteed under Roe.
Access to safe, legal, abortion is a constitutional right that must remain protected. The persistence of anti-abortion activists and legislators to deny this right operates in the face of the fact that 59% of U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
A stranger should not be able to decide another person’s health care decisions. Texans, like all Americans, have a constitutional right to abortion access. S.B. 8 should be overturned.