Back in May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that would ban abortions after six weeks beginning September 1. It has now officially been made into a law.
While the Texas law does offer exceptions for medical emergencies, this ban on abortion includes pregnancies that are the result of incest and/or rape. At a basic level, it might seem like the most extreme part of this law is just how little time a person has to get an abortion, as many don’t know they are even pregnant by six weeks, but that’s only half of it.
There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, so let’s get into it.
First, You Need to Understand Roe v. Wade
We all know about Roe v. Wade, which states citizens have a constitutional right to an abortion without government interference. Still, in an effort to protect both the birth parent and the unborn baby, there are parameters around this based on trimester.
Throughout the first trimester (12 weeks), the decision to abort a pregnancy is solely up to the person carrying the fetus. In the second trimester (14-26 weeks), the government can step in by setting reasonable health requirements (such as a risk to the birth parent’s life or viability of the pregnancy). In the third trimester (27+ weeks), abortions can be banned entirely except in cases where there is a significant risk to the birth parent’s life.
What the New Texas Law Says
On the surface, the abortion ban Texas put into place obviously goes against this precedent. However, they were strategic in writing the law because, instead of the government enforcing the rule, they’re putting the enforcement on the citizens, so it’s not technically unconstitutional.
In other words, the law gives citizens (whether they are Texas residents or not) the right to sue clinics and individuals for “aiding and abetting” abortions after six weeks. They don’t even have to have a vested interest in the case or tangible proof to do so. And, if they win, they get their court costs covered by the state and $10,000 as a reward. If they lose, the individual who was sued gets nothing.
What makes it even more complex (or disgusting, if you ask me) is that it’s not just doctors that can be taken to court, it’s anyone who helps someone get an abortion after six weeks. It means each individual involved in the process can be sued including the patient’s doctor(s), staff at the clinic, or even a friend who drives the birth parent to a clinic.
Who This Law Affects Most
It probably comes as no shock that, while this law applies to everyone across the state, its impacts will be felt the most by lower-class citizens, many of which are often people of color. Since it’s still legal to get an abortion outside of Texas, people can drive across state lines to get safe abortions and then come back home without any repercussions. This, of course, requires the use of a car, the ability to take enough time off work to travel the long-distance and physically recover from the abortion, and the financial means to pay for everything.
Pro-choice activist, Lindy West said it best on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,
“Anti-choice people are not trying to stop abortion. They are trying to legislate who can and cannot have abortions. Because conservative politicians – their wives and mistresses and daughters are always going to be able to get an abortion somewhere. All criminalizing abortion will do is keep people trapped in poverty for generations. That’s the goal, and if it wasn’t the goal they would spend their time and money on comprehensive sex education, free birth control, and free contraception.”
So, What Happens Now?
Since abortions are technically ~kind of~ still legal in Texas, this law doesn’t outright take away someone’s rights so it’s difficult to argue that it’s unconstitutional. The language makes it so difficult that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declined to “grant a group of litigants’ emergency request and block it,” according to Vox. This isn’t shocking, given the court’s conservative majority.
It is important to note, however, that not all hope is lost with SCOTUS. An emergency review means having very little time to thoroughly read through and research the law and the intricacies of its language. That means that if they were to make a ruling under these circumstances, that could set a new precedent.
Honestly, as frustrating as this is, we don’t particularly want a rushed decision right now given that we have appointed justices like Amy Coney Barrett who is very much anti-abortion on a personal level.
This law will absolutely continue to be challenged by pro-choice advocacy groups, so chances are very high that it will make its way back to SCOTUS to review under normal circumstances (not emergency). Still, the law’s language is complicated by design, so it certainly won’t be a quick review when it happens. Once they’ve come to a decision, however they end up ruling will set a new precedent for other states that may try to put similar laws into place.
The road ahead is long, and until this ban is deemed unconstitutional (which, it is) people in the state of Texas will be forced to either carry out an unwanted pregnancy, go to another state for a legal abortion, or risk an illegal (and possibly dangerous) abortion in their home state.
RBG is undoubtedly rolling over in her grave.