fbpx Texans Are Poised to Resist the New Abortion Law

Reproductive Health - Abortion | June 2, 2021, 9:22 CDT

Texans Are Poised to Resist the New Abortion Law
Opponents of the 'heartbeat bill' say it further strips reproductive rights in the state.
Lola Méndez

Written by

Lola Méndez
Illustration by Tré Carden

On Wednesday, May 19, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law an abortion ban he said will help save the lives of "millions of children" who "lose their right to life every year because of abortion." Opponents of the bill say it's unconstitutional and dangerous, and amounts to an outright ban.

Senate Bill 8, known as a "heartbeat bill," bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy (although whether this is a "heartbeat" at all is hotly contested). "When you factor in the time it takes to confirm a pregnancy, consider your options and...schedule an appointment, a six-week ban essentially bans abortion outright," said Bhavik Kumar, M.D., M.P.H., an abortion provider in Houston and national medical spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

Texas' abortion laws were already restrictive: The state mandates 24-hour waiting periods and a sonogram before the procedure, and before the new measure passed, pill-induced abortions were barred after 10 weeks and other methods were prohibited from the 20-week mark.

But the new law goes much further, only allowing an exception to the new restrictions in cases where the patient's life is in danger. A pregnancy resulting from rape or incest does not trigger an exception. "Abortion care should be accessible to everyone regardless of why they're seeking an abortion," said Delaney Davis, a 22-year-old law student in Austin. "But the lack of a rape or incest exception demonstrates this is about controlling bodily autonomy."

The new law seems to be out of step with public opinion: 81 percent of Texans support abortion laws less strict than this new measure, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from March of this year, in which 31 percent of respondents said that "the law should permit abortion only in case of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger," 12 percent said it should also be allowed in other cases "but only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established," and 38 percent said "a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice" (13 percent said abortion should never be permitted).

But Texas' anti-abortion legislators saw this as an opportune time to advance the measure, because of the new 6–3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. While similar "heartbeat bills" have always been struck down by the courts, the Supreme Court judges may be more amenable to chipping away at the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from banning abortion before fetal viability (about 24 weeks into pregnancy, according to the judges in that case).

81 percent of Texans support abortion laws less strict than this new measure.

In the meantime, opponents of the new measure say it's unlawful and interferes with their right to bodily autonomy. "It's unconstitutional," said Karina Lopez, a 20-year-old podcaster living in Laredo, Texas. "They're taking away my choice to decide what I can do with my body."

Others have criticized the new law as dangerous. "Abortion bans don't stop abortions—they stop safe abortions," Davis said. "Pregnant people who're fearful of seeking an abortion will resort to unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancies."

Under the new law, anyone who "knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion" can be sued by any private citizen, and penalties for violating the law start at $10,000. "This is a new tactic by opponents of abortion designed to make it harder for abortion providers to challenge the ban in court," Kumar stated. "For abortion providers in Texas, this new law is designed to threaten and intimidate us. We'll not back down. Our patients need access to the healthcare we provide. Our doors will remain open and we'll do everything we can for the people who depend on us."

The measure doesn't take effect until September 1 and is likely to be challenged in court. Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a women's rights attorney in Dallas, is ready to defend the right to bodily autonomy in Texas. "Roe v. Wade started here with a brave woman in Dallas," she said. "Brave women who're in the position of needing these rights may be the plaintiffs that challenge this unconstitutional law through the courts."

Those plaintiffs could include someone like Davis, who said the new law feels like a stripping of her rights. "If I were to get pregnant, I'd want to have the full range of options available to make the best decision for me," she said. "The new abortion law essentially takes my decision-making ability away. All reproductive healthcare should be available to Texans."

Abortion is a medical procedure that is currently illegal or restricted in some portions of the United States. For more information about the legality of abortion in your area, please consult a local healthcare provider. These views and opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Giddy or any members of its staff.

Lola Méndez

Written by

Lola Méndez

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