2021 has been the worst legislative year for abortion rights since the legal right to abortion (Roe v Wade) was passed in 1973. There seems no overt reason Roe v Wade is suddenly being challenged; it remains constitutionally sound. Yet we are seeing many state legislatures attempt to push through laws that hinder women’s right to abortive procedures. Such laws aim to limit subsidized funding of clinics, include penalties for medical staff involved in abortion procedures, implement waiting periods for patients seeking procedures, and “heart beat” laws which, ultimately, make access to safe abortions near impossible to obtain.
The state of Texas is one of many to enact a “heart beat” bill, making access to abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected. (Usually about 6 weeks). The Texas Senate Bill 8 was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbot on May 19, 2021. But the provision in Texas is different in how officials are asking it be enforced. The new bill asks ordinary folks to enforce the new abortion law, offering compensation of at least $10,000.00 per successful suit filed.
For example, say you’re catching up with a friend over dinner. Should you confide that you had an abortion past 6 weeks gestation and your waiter/waitress hears you, they can sue the clinic that performed the abortion procedure. Similarly, any other person involved can be held liable. So enforcement of the new abortion ban in Texas is private, as opposed to leaving enforcement up to the state.
In theory, Texas’s SB 8 is terrifying. The bill stymies women’s rights and threatens bodily integrity. By delegating enforcement to the [unqualified] masses, neighbors may become enemies, and the country is at risk of becoming further divided. And most importantly, women die without access to safe abortions. Further, it is worth noting that abortion bans disproportionately affect people with lower incomes and people of color, contributing to economic and racial inequality. Globally, 45% of all abortions are unsafe, and mainly occur in places with restrictive laws. Legalized abortion is necessary to protect women’s health and rights: “provision of safe, legal abortion is essential to fulfilling the global commitment to the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health.”
However, Texas’s SB 8 will realistically be difficult to enforce. HIPAA protects individual health information at the national level, so even if a stranger did hear someone speaking about an “illegal” abortion procedure, it will be difficult to prove when and where services were rendered. Nonetheless, the efforts to control female bodies and overturn Roe v Wade are demonstrative of the pervasive misogyny that plagues the country.
The Biden administration and Congress are clearly in the best positions to improve health outcomes by protecting Roe v Wade, restoring Title X, and repealing the Hyde amendment. But there are steps we can take at the individual level as well.
How we can help:
If you have had an abortion, consider sharing your story.
Raise awareness in your social circles and on your social media platforms as to why access to safe, legal abortions saves lives.
Support other folks’ art/activism. I’m loving this shop on Etsy.
Reach out to government officials and make your voice heard.
Volunteer at women’s clinics.
And please note, it is okay to believe that abortion is wrong. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But just because you feel that it is wrong does not mean that you can coerce them to act according to your beliefs. True feminists are pro-choice, and protecting Roe v Wade will save lives.
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