Women’s reproductive rights are under assault in Texas. The passage of a new anti-abortion law by the conservative state legislature and the complicity of the Supreme Court has endangered the freedom and safety of women across Texas and the entire nation.
At midnight on Sept. 1, 2021, a new anti-abortion law went into effect in Texas. This law prohibits women from obtaining an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected. Fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Therefore, this new law all but ensures that countless women in Texas will not have access to safe abortion services. This law is so restrictive that it does not even have exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
The Texas law is unique compared to other “heartbeat bills” in that it does not set criminal penalties for violating the ban. Instead, the law allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps women receive an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is present.
This means that private citizens with no relationship to the patient can sue anyone who is even tangentially connected to the patient. Therefore, everyone from a doctor, to a partner, to the Uber driver who drove the woman to the clinic could be sued if the abortion was performed with a heartbeat present.
The law reads like a scene from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” with the government exerting control over women’s reproductive health and encouraging people to spy on each other and report to the authorities. Anti-abortion groups in Texas have already set up whistleblower sites to encourage people to turn in clinics and individuals they believe are violating the new law.
Opponents of the bill have warned that anti-abortion groups will use this law as a pretext to continuously sue clinics, causing major financial and legal hardship to clinics that provide a wide range of health services beyond abortion services.
In the case of other so-called “heartbeat laws,” the United States Supreme Court has prevented the laws from going into effect. The court had continually used the precedent set in the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which established the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. However, after a day of silence, the Supreme Court ruled late at night on Sept. 1 that the Texas abortion ban can be implemented while challenges to the law work their way through the federal court system.
The shocking 5-4 decision, with most conservative justices ruling in favor of the abortion ban, effectively gutted the constitutional protections of Roe vs. Wade in Texas.
This ruling of the court will have major repercussions beyond Texas. Other conservative states have signaled that they will try to pass similar legislation. Even if the Supreme Court eventually strikes down this law, the precedent set in Wednesday night’s ruling sends a message that this highly conservative court does not intend to protect reproductive rights.
The impact that this bill will have on women in Texas and beyond is truly dire. At only six weeks, many women will not know they are pregnant and will therefore miss their window to receive the care they need.
This bill is especially callous because it will harm lower-income women at a much higher rate. For women in Texas, the only way to receive care after six weeks is to travel out of state, but for many women, this is an unattainable solution. Traveling out of state to receive reproductive health care is not possible for many women. The cost of traveling out of state, time required to take off of work or other commitments are factors that disproportionately bar lower-income women from accessing safe abortions. On the other hand, those who have wealth can access abortions with relative ease.
The women who cannot afford to go out of state to receive care may turn to unsafe measures instead. We have seen in the past that when abortion is not legal, women will utilize unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancy, which can result in severe injury or death.
Even women who do receive care before a heartbeat is detected will likely be plagued with fear that someone could find out about their procedure and attempt to initiate a lawsuit against people in their lives, or even those barely related, such as the aforementioned ride-share driver.
The ruling by the Supreme Court has made women across the United States less free and sent a message that women cannot have autonomy over their bodies and their health care decisions. It is up to all of us to speak in opposition to this ruling and use our voice and our vote to protect reproductive rights.
Isabelle Schindler is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.