On September 1, like a scene from a dystopian novel, Texas officially banned abortions post-six weeks throughout the state. Senate Bill (SB) 8, also commonly known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, is one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. Not only is it a violation of the rights of all people with uteruses around the country, but it is also a breach of Roe v. Wade.
Decided by the Supreme Court in January of 1973, Roe v. Wade confirmed access to abortion for every pregnant person anywhere in the country up to 24-28 weeks into pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, 79% of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, yet with SB 8, Texas is blatantly taking away the right to abortion at six weeks, which is months before fetal viability — the point at which a fetus would have a chance at survival outside the uterus. This is a clear violation of a nearly 50-year-long precedent, yet the Supreme Court refused to block the bill in a 5-4 decision. What does this mean for Roe v. Wade? What does this mean for the rights of all Americans?
Alongside this bill, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has made a $10,000 bounty available for anyone, in Texas or elsewhere, who agrees to report and sue a person involved in an abortion case at any degree. This is a particularly upsetting aspect of this bill because it is pitting Americans against one another.
In her dissent from the court after they refused to block the bill, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it best — Texas is mobilizing these civilians as “bounty hunters.” This puts a target on the backs of women and it puts clinics who provide access to safe abortions and anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion in a dangerous position.
Dr. Alan Braid, a Texas-based physician, has already been sued by multiple plaintiffs seeking to challenge the law, after admitting he performed a post-six weeks abortion in an op-ed for The Washington Post. Ironically, suits like this may end up being beneficial in the fight for reproductive rights. If they are challenged and taken to higher courts, they may create opportunities to overturn SB 8 and uphold Roe v. Wade. However, the bounty is still deputizing citizens, and although the potential for an overturn would be a great stride for reproductive rights, less altruistic lawsuits can severely impact those like Dr. Braid who are forced to face them.
The ban does not only limit the amount of time in which people are able to get abortions, it also makes no exceptions for cases of rape, sexual assault or incest. These lawmakers are taking away the right for people with uteruses to have agency in their own lives. The law’s refusal to acknowledge even these most extreme cases shows that the lives of pregnant people are simply not the priority of these lawmakers. Some argue that cases of rape and incest are less than 1% of abortion cases anyway, but why does that matter? Those cases still count and should be acknowledged. A person should be able to get an abortion for whatever reason they see fit. Whether it is an extreme situation like assault, or one in which a pregnant person simply does not want the responsibility of carrying or raising a child, that should be their prerogative — not the choice of people who will never know them and never think of them again.
It is important to note this is also a class issue — those who have the funds and opportunity to travel out of Texas will be able to get access to an abortion, but someone without such mobility will be further victimized by this bill. This will go deeper in disproportionately affecting women and people of color who, for generations, have been trapped in cycles of poverty. The social dynamics within reproductive rights are complex, and a person’s social position and identity will influence how they are affected by SB 8.
With these abortion restrictions, it is clear there is more concern for the potential life of an unborn baby than there is for pregnant people who are already grappling with life-changing challenges. People seem to forget someone seeking an abortion is already a person with goals, dreams, loved ones — you know, a life — and these lawmakers are forcing them to alter that life and undergo a pregnancy, which comes with its own physical and mental complications. From pregnancy, some people experience high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and hormonal changes which can lead to depression and other mental illnesses. The United States also has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country. To force a person to put themselves at risk of these health challenges against their will is wrong. That is not pro-life, that is just anti-abortion.
This is the United States of America in 2021, and these laws make it feel like we’ve jumped back 50 years. The way the bill is termed the “Heartbeat Act” and the way anti-choice and anti-abortion people label themselves as pro-life is a tactic to engender certain emotions about pregnancy, and to gain support for their movement. They want to garner sympathy for a fetus, but they forget about the person who is already alive. In reality, even though a heartbeat can be detected, a fetus would not survive if born at six weeks. The name of this bill is misleading and intended to manipulate people to believe a fetus is a fully mature baby, but there are still months to go in the pregnancy before the viability period is reached.
I think many people around the country do have good intentions and genuinely believe in what they are standing for, but some lawmakers use this emotion to push their conservative political agendas. As we have seen with Governor Abbott, he has a plethora of conservative ideas and bills that he is continuously pushing in Texas — in September he also signed into Texas law a bill to terminate the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs after seven weeks of pregnancy. His positions on these social issues are indicative of the direction he intends on taking Texas toward, and this issue is only going to continue to get worse if the Supreme Court does not uphold the precedent set by Roe v. Wade.
I believe we have to try to separate emotion from science when it comes to abortion laws. A very common misconception is that all people who are pro-choice would personally get an abortion if they had the chance. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t — but that really doesn’t matter. Being pro-choice means I am in favor of what a pregnant person wants to do. Whether that be a full-term pregnancy, adoption for the child or abortion, I want to support THEIR choice. These decisions seem hard enough without shame and judgement from people on the outside. As we have seen time and time again, people protest outside of abortion clinics and harrass patients, they insult and belittle them, and there is no place in our society for that type of hatred.
If you have a pregnant person in your life who is struggling with these choices, support them. Show them how much you love them, because this is an issue that is not going away, and we all need to come together and take a stand for reproductive rights. What matters above all is that people with uteruses have access to a safe abortion procedure.
On Nov. 2, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in two of the cases brought against the Texas Heartbeat Act — Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, which questions whether the Texas law can insulate itself from federal court review by delegating enforcement to the public, and United States v. Texas, which aims to establish whether or not the federal government has enough interest to challenge the state over the law.