It’s happening… The Supreme Court failed to intervene in halting the SB 8 law. Texas will now essentially ban most abortions and become the first state in decades to do so. The ban will be in effect from today, Wednesday 1 September 2021. This particularly shocking ban previously made headlines in July for an added measure that incentivises anti-abortion advocates to sue doctors, clinics or those simply aiding a patient in obtaining an ‘illegal abortion’. If successful in suing that abortion provider, individuals will not only be rewarded with a $10,000 bounty—yes, you read that right—but also have all legal expenses paid for.
This disturbing addition would mean that any anti-abortion individual can report or sue any one-person or clinic for aiding a patient in getting an abortion, even if they don’t live in the state or even know the patient. You could be sued by a so-called abortion bounty hunter simply for driving a friend to a clinic. There is no making it up, although similar to something you’d watch in a Black Mirror episode, this law is now an actual reality for the citizens of Texas.
These alarming abortion bounty hunter measures will also be coupled with a ban of abortion at a mere six weeks of pregnancy—just after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Medical professionals who oppose the bill argue that the characterisation of, what they say are, simply vibrations of tissue development, as a “heartbeat” is incredibly misleading.
The ban of abortion at six weeks is worrying enough for reproductive rights activists who note that many people won’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks, thus the law effectively challenges and undermines Roe v. Wade by essentially criminalising most abortions. According to pro-choice advocates, the new legislation will mean that at least 85 per cent of Texas abortions will be outlawed.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, the new law also holds no exceptions for both rape or incest to allow an abortion, citing only “medical emergencies” as a valid special case to the rule. This ban would force women seeking abortions to have to travel to bordering states like Oklahoma or Louisiana, which only have eight clinics between them.
Even if one were to travel to these neighbouring states, the reported similarly ‘hostile’ attitudes toward abortion and lack of medical availability could force those to move out even further for access to reproductive medical care. These largely increasing distances would be most detrimental to those already experiencing other forms of oppression because of race, low-finance, sexuality, disability and even immigration status. SB 8’s enactment is a devastating blow to the work of reproductive rights in the country.
Pro-choice advocates called on the US Supreme Court on Monday 30 August to urgently stop the ban from being legalised in Texas. The plaintiffs wrote to the court stating that “if permitted to take effect, SB 8 would immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas” forcing “many abortion clinics to ultimately close.” They argued that “patients who can scrape together resources will be forced to attempt to leave the state to obtain an abortion,” constricting those unable to leave to “remain pregnant against their will or attempt to end their pregnancies without medical supervision.” This desperate last-minute plea failed. Is this the future of the Amy Coney Barrett era?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took to Twitter this morning, “The Supreme Court has not responded to our emergency request to block Texas’ radical new six-week abortion ban, SB 8. The law now takes effect.” It continued, “Access to almost all abortion has just been cut off for millions of people. The impact will be immediate and devastating.”
While many were optimistic that the law wouldn’t be passed as others alike have failed, some have pointed out that this Texas law was much harder to block. SB 8’s design would mean that the abortion ban is enforced by private individuals in private lawsuits—the abortion bounty hunters—against accused abortion users and providers and not state government officials. In simple terms, this would mean that pro-choice organisations would have no one to sue or combat in court.
Now that Texas (or, more accurately, the white men running the state) have won this round of regressive reproductive rights measures, a snowball effect is bound to ensue. Opponents of the new law have argued that this will inspire other hostile (usually red) states to follow suit and endanger all reproductive rights of the US.