Abort the Law?

A look at Texas’s new abortion ban

On September 1, cries of triumph and despair alike broke out in households across the country. Texas’s new abortion law, Senate Bill 8, had just gone into effect and is now the United States’ most restrictive law regarding abortion. According to CNN Politics, it will prevent approximately 85% of abortions in the Lone Star State, and will drastically alter the lives of people living there.

“Heartbeat bills,” as laws similar to Senate Bill 8 have been dubbed, make terminating a pregnancy illegal after six weeks, which is when officials say a heartbeat is detectable in the embryo. This is extremely problematic for those seeking to obtain an abortion, as most are unaware that they are even pregnant at this time, NPR claims. “What this means is that by the time women find out they are pregnant, they don’t even have an option to terminate the pregnancy,” said Karina Kadia (‘22), a student leader of FEM Club. 

This will significantly alter the number of people able to access safe, legal, and affordable reproductive healthcare, but it is not a complete ban on abortions after six weeks; exceptions can be made, although the criteria are extremely strict. Termination of a pregnancy is only permitted in cases of medical emergencies, such as a situation in which it is the only way to save the person’s life. “The law also doesn’t make exceptions for women who have been raped. If the woman doesn’t find out she’s pregnant before the six-week mark, she will not have an option to terminate the pregnancy, even if she was impregnated through rape,” explained Karina. Texans can also travel out of state to reach a clinic, but this is costly and difficult for most people.

The expenses don’t stop at just travel; if someone is caught providing another person with or helping them access an abortion, they may be brought to court, and the method used for enforcing this is another distinguishing feature of the law. “When you think of something being restricted, especially something like abortion, these are usually criminal laws, which would mean that the government is saying ‘this is illegal, and we will come after you,’” stated History and Government teacher Mr. Raul Ruiz, who teaches Mock Trial. In the case of Texas Senate Bill 8, the system is very different.

Instead of the government imposing criminal punishments, individuals will be allowed to sue people they know who were involved in another person’s abortion. They are not permitted to sue the individual who actually received it, however. This could be anything from loaning money to driving to a clinic, and the plaintiff does not need to know the person they are bringing the lawsuit against. These cases could potentially award the litigant with $10,000 in damages, in addition to attorney’s fees. This brand of vigilante justice has the potential to create a state filled with people set on severely affecting, or even ruining, others’ lives in exchange for a large cash reward. 

This law will also be difficult to challenge in court; since it is enforced by millions of individuals, there is no one person or organization to sue. As Mr. Ruiz put it, “Because of the way this law was written, we don’t know who we’re blocking from doing what.” This doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried: before the law was implemented, a group of abortion providers, activists, and private citizens filed a lawsuit, hoping to issue an injunction to block Senate Bill 8. But the Fifth Circuit, a court that has jurisdiction over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, jumped in before it was decided on by the district court and ordered them not to rule on the case. The plaintiffs then went to the Supreme Court, asking for the case to be heard anyway, but that request was denied. Hence, the courts ruled on a technical issue, not on whether Senate Bill 8 was constitutional or not.

Even if the constitutionality of the bill has not been confirmed, millions of people still have to live with its consequences, and this number could grow if other states pass similar laws. Outlawing abortion is an important tenet in the Republican party, so it is likely that red states will propose these same sorts of bills. As for the left, “blue states are not likely to pass laws like this at all”, according to Mr. Ruiz, but many lawsuits are in progress on behalf of the abortion-rights movement. Under the claims that Senate Bill 8 violates the 14th Amendment and invalidates Roe v. Wade, advocates and clinics hope to block the law as soon as possible.

In the meantime, though, the people of Texas will have to live with this monumental change, and many will not stand for it. It will alter peoples’ lives in both predictable and unforeseen ways, and in most cases, not for the better.