Texas Senate Bill 8
On May 19, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas Senate Bill 8 into law, prohibiting abortions in Texas as early as six weeks, even in cases of rape or incest. The bill will take effect on September 1, 2021, and only allows for medical emergency exceptions, making it one of the most extreme anti-choice laws nationwide and the strictest in Texas since the landmark Roe v. Wade case. Currently, most abortions in Texas are prohibited after twenty weeks, while pill-induced abortions are banned after ten weeks. Abortion providers must perform a sonogram twenty-four hours before the abortion, and must provide information about “medical risks,” abortion alternatives, and assistance available to those who follow through with their pregnancy. Most people are not aware they are pregnant two weeks after a missed period, especially people with health conditions that impact their reproductive systems.
Those seeking an abortion are working against the clock, as it takes time to confirm a pregnancy, consider one’s options, make a decision, schedule an appointment, and navigate through all the restrictions politicians have already put in place for patients and providers.
Similar abortion bans have passed in eleven other states but Texas Senate Bill 8 is a first-of-its-kind law because it opens the door for almost any private citizen to sue anyone who helps a Texan access abortion after the six-week limit. Previous laws that intended to outlaw abortion after six weeks have not been successful as they were quickly ruled unconstitutional when challenged in federal courts.
Abortion rights groups typically sue whoever the state appointed as responsible for enforcement of the law, typically the state health commission or the attorney general’s office, to prevent the restrictive abortion law from taking effect. However, the Texas Senate Bill 8 is not appointing any state official as the enforcer of this law, which means there is no one to sue.
What This Means For Abortion Funds & Providers
Organizations and abortion providers are then left to wait to be sued themselves to challenge the bill in court. Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, states that “[e]very citizen is now a private attorney general, you can have random people who are against abortion start suing.” Those citizens choosing to sue can be awarded at least $10,000 as well as have attorney fees covered if they win in court.
This will enticea flood of lawsuits against abortion providers, abortion funds, rape crisis counselors, family members, and other medical professionals. Even if these lawsuits are won by abortion providers and other pro-abortion groups and individuals, fighting the law will take away from patient care. More importantly, many people seeking abortions do not have enough money to cover them, so they rely on the financial support of abortion funds, who may find their funds drained by lawsuits.
The Supreme Court is Next
This comes just after the Supreme Court announced on May 17, 2021, that it will hear Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization to determine if Mississippi’s fifteen-week abortion ban is constitutional. This is the first major abortion case that will be heard before the court’s newly conservative majority, and it could outlaw nearly all abortions if the supreme court overrules Roe v. Wade. This ban has been struck down by lower courts, given Supreme Court precedent stating people cannot be prohibited from terminating their pregnancies before viability. A fetus is considered “viable” if it can survive outside the womb, which occurs at around twenty-four weeks.
Young People Stand Up & Fight
Regardless of what the future holds, abortion is still legal in all fifty states. It is no surprise that young, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ people are continually showing up to fight for abortion access, since abortion bans impact these communities the most.
A Lake Highlands High School valedictorian, Paxton Smith, has gone viral due to changing her approved valedictorian speech last minute to shed light on Texas’s six-week abortion ban. She said, “I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl here does. We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant.” She continues her speech reminding the audience that this issue is very relevant to everyone, as it is a “war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your daughters,” and she concluded by stating “we cannot stay silent.”
This is not the first time young people have taken the spotlight to advocate for abortion access. We Testify is an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have had abortions, particularly those of color, from rural and conservative communities, queer-identifying, and those from varying abilities and citizenship statuses. We Testify members share their abortion stories in order to challenge abortion stigma and fight for abortion access.
Recently, young members of We Testify spoke with Cosmopolitan to share their stories in light of the Texas abortion ban and the Supreme Court hearing the Mississippi fifteen-week abortion ban case. Cowanda, a We Testify storyteller who got her abortion in Dallas, Texas, at age 17, said abortion storytelling was at one point the reason she woke up in the morning: “It was part of my existence. Like, this is what I have to do for my community, this is my step towards claiming my power, claiming my truth, and my access to the liberation that I envision for myself.”
Another We Testify storyteller, Anna, highlighted how she was unable to access birth control or Plan B due to the restrictions for minors under 18 in the state of Texas. She ended up getting pregnant at 17, and had to navigate through more restrictions and undergo a judicial bypass in order to get her abortion at six weeks gestation in Dallas County, Texas. She said, “Every single part of my journey, every single obstacle—not being able to take hormonal birth control, not being able to get emergency contraception, not being able to even make my own choice to have sex, having to explain that I had to have an abortion because I was denied my two previous choices—it was such a terrible time.” This highlights the struggle many people, especially young people, face in Texas.
The Hyde Amendment
All of the continuous efforts brought about by abortion advocates have brought major success as well. President Biden recently released his $6 trillion budget proposal that does not include the Hyde Amendment. If Biden’s proposal succeeds, it would be the first time in history that the Hyde Amendment has not been enacted since it was first established in 1976. The Hyde Amendment is a measure to ban the use of federal funding to cover abortion. This means Medicaid will not pay for an abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Since Medicaid is a joint federal and state program, states could cover abortions with their share of funds, but most states don’t.
Having The Hyde Amendment repealed would be a huge win as it will make abortion more accessible.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Abortion rights activists will continue to fight for abortion access and challenge any bans that stand in the way. Together, as a community, we can incite change. The fight continues.