Last Wednesday, Texas law Senate Bill 8 restricting abortion went into effect. That evening, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court refused to block the law; Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal justices, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Of the five justices who have allowed it to go in effect, two have been credibly accused of sexual assault. It’s no stretch to say that the law will be a boon for misogynists and anti-abortionists, alike. And it will be an absolute disaster for anyone who can get pregnant.
SB8 forbids people in Texas from having an abortion after six weeks. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. It’s referred to as a “heartbeat bill,” though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains that term doesn’t “reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding,” as embryos do not possess a heart at that stage.
At six weeks pregnant, a person’s period has only been missed by two weeks. That is what many consider a pretty reasonable “margin of error.” But, even if people do recognise that they’re pregnant at the earliest moment possible and decide to terminate, they’d still have to get to a clinic in order to do so. And that is something which will be difficult to do in a state where clinics have already been massively restricted. And even if a clinic is found, there’s a good chance it will have a month-long waiting list — a reminder that it doesn’t really matter if Roe v. Wade is still in effect nationally if, state-to-state, getting an abortion is virtually impossible for millions of people in the U.S.
While it is possible to believe that there are some people who personally oppose abortion in good faith, there is nothing about this legislation that was done in that manner. In fact, all of this can — and should — be regarded with a certain level of cynicism. For every anti-choice activist who declares that abortion is the equivalent of murdering children, remember that the politicians they support don't truly think of embryos as children. You can tell, because none of the legal benefits that come with motherhood are conferred onto pregnant women. In order to declare a child as a dependent on your taxes, for instance, the child will still need to be born alive. An immigrant woman who is pregnant is not considered to be housing a citizen — though, if the infant is born on American soil, they will then have those rights. Though, again, the child would have to be born alive. Viability doesn’t come at six weeks.
None of these or any other logical inconsistencies matter to people who want this law to go into effect, though. Nor does the fact that whether legal or illegal, abortion rates remain the same. Instead, this law is a reminder that, to some, anyone who has a uterus has a single purpose: to be a mother. And if there’s any deviation from that, they’ll be punished — and not metaphorically.
In an especially cruel twist, this law allows private citizens to sue anyone who has “aided” an abortion. If those citizens win their lawsuit, they’re entitled to $10,000 in damages and lawyers’ fees. President Biden, when speaking out against the bill, stressed that those facing lawsuits could include “family members, health care workers, front desk staff at a health care clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individual,” and, as NPR noted, that would also include “those who give a woman a ride to a clinic or provide financial assistance in obtaining an abortion.” Meaning, even an Uber driver could face legal repercussions for picking up a ride.
But what if, you might be thinking, someone sues me for helping someone else out with an abortion, makes $10,000, but gets it wrong? What if I had no intention of helping someone get an abortion? Well, according to the New York Times, “what’s known as the litigation privilege would likely protect [the person suing you] from a defamation claim even if [they’re] wrong.”
It will be much harder, then, to ask for a ride to a health clinic to get an abortion, when any potential driver has to worry about getting sued. It will be much harder to ask for a ride to a health clinic for any reason if there’s the potential for a mistake to be made, someone to be sued, and face the legal and financial ramifications of being targeted by anti-abortion fanatics. It will be a situation rife with fear, anxiety, distrust, and desperation.
Which, of course, is the intent behind the creation of this kind of panopticon.
People who need abortions will be isolated — not only physically from clinics, but emotionally, from those who might help and support them. The consequences will be dire.
Yet, not enough people are treating this as the emergency it is. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a problem in their state, so they think people in Texas can simply travel for an abortion — not taking into account how difficult that is, particularly for those in lower income brackets, who can’t afford to go out-of-state, let alone take time off from work. There are others who, optimistically, think the rise of drugs that can induce an abortion at home will improve the situation. Perhaps, but their existence is why Texas is also pushing forward Senate Bill 4, to ban those drugs from being mailed in Texas. Still, online clinics might be enough to stop us from returning to the days of life-threatening, “back-alley abortions,” right?
Those days are already here. In Tennessee in 2015, a woman attempted to induce her own abortion with a coat hanger. In Texas, where abortion access was already restricted, women have attempted DIY abortions using “herbs or homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.”
If there’s any urge to condemn the frightened people using these methods to terminate a pregnancy, or compare them to those people who take horse-deworming medicine rather than an FDA-approved vaccine, it is worth remembering that whereas the COVID vaccine is free and widely available, Texas (and many other states alongside it, to varying degrees) has done everything in its power to prevent sage access to abortions. By restricting access to information about safe at home abortions, to say nothing of the pills themselves, Texas virtually insures that people will try riskier methods.
This doesn’t mean that there is no hope, or nothing to do. This could be the time to expand the Supreme Court, a move that is not unprecedented and could work to correct the imbalance perpetrated by recent Republican court appointments. This is a time for people who can do so to volunteer, and donate money and time to worthwhile organisations. This is a time to remember what’s at stake.
Because, make no mistake about it: This will end with people dead. That’s a virtual certainty. And when they die, “pro-lifers” will say they deserved it. Their movement, of course, is not about keeping people alive. It’s a death cult. It’s about forcing everyone into their idea of what is right. And if that means a few people are going to die, well, those aren’t the heartbeats they care about.