• Leah Hess

Texas’ Anti-Abortion Bill Foreshadows a Future Difficulties for U.S. Women


A laundry list of new laws (666 to be exact) were put into effect in Texas on September 1, 2021, prompting pushback from many of the state’s residents. Some of the most notable include the permitless carry of handguns, changes in social studies curriculum which prevents teachers from discussing current events or systematic racism, and strict abortion restrictions. With the latter in place, women are prohibited from getting abortions past the 6th week of pregnancy. Although seemingly clear-cut, this law is complicated and has far-reaching implications for women everywhere.


Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), also known as the “Texas Heartbeat Act”, prohibits abortions as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy. More specifically, it bans abortions after the point where an ultrasound can detect a fetal “heartbeat” (as defined by lawmakers, not medical professionals). The only exception to this is in the case of medical emergencies, leaving rape and incest survivors in an unspeakably difficult position. The bill also opens a scary new can of worms- private individuals are encouraged to sue those involved in the bypassing of the law. In other words, civilians will receive compensation of at least $10,000 for turning on their neighbors, including abortion providers, medical professionals who assist at clinics, and even individuals who provide transportation or assistance to those seeking abortions.


Those for the bill are mostly pro-life advocates who see this bill as one step closer to the complete prohibition of abortion, even before 6 weeks. Texas senate republicans are not the only ones pushing for this type of policy. Other Republican states are hoping to follow Texas’ lead. For example, Mississippi is preparing to implement a similar 15-week abortion ban in its upcoming term. Although they make up a minority, many civilians support these drastic measures. A 2021 Pew Research survey reported that 39% of adult Americans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.


However, many Texans and others worldwide have been outspoken about their objection to this bill. Medical and legal experts have objections to this bill. For one, the term “fetal heartbeat” is problematic and misleading; embryos do not have hearts at that stage in pregnancy. As a result, the law is convoluted and the restrictions feel arbitrary.


About 85% of abortions in Texas have been performed after the 6-week mark. In general, this is only shortly after a woman has missed her menstrual period. This means that it is highly likely that many women may not have sufficient time after finding out they are pregnant to receive the procedure.


Similarly, this may have psychological impacts on women who are faced with the tough decision of whether or not to pursue an abortion. Undergoing this procedure can be life-altering; women who receive abortions were 34% more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, 37% more likely to experience depression, 110% more likely to abuse alcohol, and 155% more likely to commit suicide. I include these statistics not to speak against abortion, but rather to show that it is not an easy decision, and women who decide it is necessary for them and their life deserve access to resources. These mental health statistics are also pre-heart beat bill, when pre and post-abortion counseling options were available. One can only imagine that it will be worse without this support. Similarly, women may be hesitant to ask for support from friends and family if they feel they are implicating them in a crime. If they do reach out, will these people be willing to provide their support?


Likewise, research has shown that women considering abortion have a high degree of desire for information on all possible complications. Naturally, the best source of information would be physicians specializing in women’s health. However, this is risky under the new law. What information is considered “aiding” in an illegal abortion? What will happen to women and their children without this crucial information? Surely many will suffer from this impending grey area.


This is the first 6-week abortion act to ever go into effect in the United States. It is also unprecedented in its method of enforcement, as mentioned earlier. Legal challenges that have typically barred other bans like this from implementation are minimized by placing the burden of enforcement on civilians through civil court rather than on state officials in federal courts. This alleviates state responsibility and further divides the populace based on political beliefs and (what should be) private decisions.


However, this is not even the full extent of the legal implications of this bill. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to stop the law from going into effect on August 30, 2021. A 5-4 vote led to the Supreme Court denying the block, allowing the law to go into effect on September 1, 2021. Previously, the Supreme Court had successfully blocked similar 6-week bans from going into effect in 8 other states. Arguably, the failure of the Supreme Court to defend a woman’s right to an abortion directly challenges Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision to legalize abortion nationwide up to approximately 24 weeks. Many law professionals agree that this makes the law unconstitutional. Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst for American Progress Ian Millhiser, whose work focuses on the Constitution and the judiciary, agrees and adds a troublesome caveat- this policy may foreshadow the overruling of Roe v. Wade altogether.

 

Speaking Plainly:

  • On September 1, 2021, Texas implemented many controversial laws signed during the 87th Texas Legislature, including a 6-week abortion ban.

  • This law, Senate Bill 8 or the “Texas Heartbeat Act”, not only restricts abortion but uniquely places enforcement responsibility on civilians rather than state law enforcement.

  • Along with the obvious and unfortunate consequences this will have on Texas women, this law could begin a domino effect that may eventually completely overturn Roe v. Wade and solidify a disenfranchisement of U.S. women.