Due to Texas’s Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion as early as six weeks (or when cardiac activity can be detected), abortion has been banned in Texas for twenty days. This law is unpopular with Texans and is the most extreme anti-abortion law in the country. Austin Women’s Health Center is complying with the new legislation and is still providing abortion care to Texans today, but abortion access looks different now, and we want you to know we are still here. And we will continue to be here, just like we were during Texas HB2, which forced more than half of the abortion providers in the state to close, and during the 2020 COVID bans, when Governor Greg Abbott deemed abortion non-essential and banned it over the span of a month. We know it is a very confusing, intimidating, and scary time for people seeking abortions, abortion providers, and abortion advocates alike, so we want to answer some of the questions we’ve been hearing the most from patients and concerned community members.
What is happening in Texas on the ground right now?
This law, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to block it, has curbed access to abortion in Texas overnight. Since the law went into effect on September 1, it has devastated our already vulnerable care infrastructure and has left Texans who need access to care and support services scared to reach out for help, and advocates afraid to help them. Currently, Texas abortion clinics are complying with the law, meaning that abortion access has been significantly reduced in Texas. Our incredible Texas abortion funds are also helping people leave the state and funding their care outside of the state. And those same abortion funds have seen calls increase exponentially since September 1.
Approximately 85-90% of people who have abortions in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy, meaning this law is prohibiting nearly all abortions in the state. Most abortion procedures in Texas occur at in the first trimester, but SB8 bans abortions before many people even know they are pregnant. For people with a regular menstrual cycle, 6 weeks is only two weeks after the first missed period.
How are Texans affected by Senate Bill 8?
Many Texans are trying to scrape together thousands of dollars to travel out of state, take time off work, and arrange child care and transportation. Many Texans are self-managing their abortions. And tragically, countless Texans are being forced to carry pregnancies against their will. This burden will fall hardest on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, undocumented people, and low-income Texans, who will face the most severe barriers to accessing care out of state and will face disproportionate harm from the law.
We had a glimpse of what a ban on abortion could look like for Texans in 2020 with Abbott’s COVID-19 Executive Order that banned abortion for nearly a month. Texans were desperate and hundreds of appointments were canceled all over the state. The lucky ones were able to travel out of state to access abortion care, but even then they were forced to stay pregnant longer, causing stress on them and their families and making their procedures more expensive.
Why did the Department of Justice sue the state of Texas?
This lawsuit is based on SB 8’s deprivation of Texans’ constitutional right to an abortion, and that it violates other federal laws. By suing the state of Texas directly, the DOJ is reinforcing the fact that SB 8 is clearly unconstitutional by the Supreme Court’s own long-standing precedent. The lawsuit appears to be one integral piece of the Biden Administration’s “whole of government” effort to protect Texans’ rights.
The DOJ is seeking a declaratory judgement and preliminary and permanent injunction to stop the State of Texas, including its officers, employees, and agents, including private parties who would bring suit under the law, from implementing or enforcing SB 8. The federal government has standing to enforce its own laws directly against the state. The federal government and Biden Administration have so much power to protect Texans by enshrining abortion rights into law, and their urgent action now is more important than ever.
Does Senate Bill 8 impacted people self-managing an abortion?
Private individuals can not bring a lawsuit under SB 8 against a person who self-manages an abortion. However, people who self-manage abortion could still face investigations or prosecutions pursuant to other Texas laws, which we know disproportionately affect people of color, young people, immigrants, and people with low incomes
Self-managed abortions can be very safe if the pregnant person has access to the right information and resources. For people who do not have those resources, they can be dangerous. Abortion bans do not change the need or demand for abortion access. We saw that last year when Abbott banned abortion for a month at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Texans were forced to remain pregnant or, if they could, to attempt to travel to other states for basic health care. SB 8 is a dangerous law that will harm Texans.
What did abortion access in Texas look like before Senate Bill 8?
People struggling to make ends meet are often forced to delay accessing abortion services because they need time to secure funds. They are also less able to travel out of state to get the care they need. In Texas, due to decades of racist economic policies, the poverty rate for Black and Latinx women is disproportionately high, meaning they will be most impacted by this ban. The poverty rate among Black women in Texas is 19%, and it is 20% among Latinx women. In Texas, 37% of female-headed households live in poverty. Texas prohibits coverage of abortion through its Medicaid program and in nearly all private insurance plans, and SB 8 bans anyone—from abortion funds to family members—from paying an abortion provider for a paitent’s care. The disparities in health care access have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has most impacted communities of color. This ban would be no different. Texas politicians have done nothing to address the state’s high poverty rate, disparate impacts of COVID-19, or the state’s high maternal mortality rate, which is especially high for patients of color. Instead, they are spending their time restricting patients’ access to the care they need.
Why did this ban go into effect when we have a constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade?
All previous six-week bans have been blocked in court by suing the state agencies responsible for enforcing them. But with this ban, Texas is attempting to surrender its enforcement role, instead authorizing private individuals to enforce the ban through the courts. Their strategy is to create a situation where there is no state agency to sue in order to block this law before it takes effect. But Texas can’t use this cynical ploy to evade legal review of its law and to effectively bar people from obtaining an abortion. The courts have an obligation and the authority to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are protected.
It is deeply concerning that the Supreme Court did not block this law before even having a hearing. The Supreme Court has affirmed for nearly fifty years that the Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion, but in Texas, we are living under a different reality now. The Supreme Court has had different compositions since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973—with appointments from Democratic presidents and Republican presidents—but the Supreme Court has always been crystal clear that a state cannot ban abortion before viability. The decades of attacks in Texas on our reproductive rights have already pushed abortion access out of reach for many. Texans feel the impacts of these attacks every day, and this law taking effect would make the situation far worse—banning abortion almost entirely.
I had an abortion in Texas while Senate Bill 8 was in effect. Can I be sued?
No. Unlike bans in other states, which are enforced by state officials, SB 8 gives the general public unprecedented authority to enforce the ban. It allows anyone—including anti-abortion activists who have no connection to the patient—to act as vigilante bounty hunters and to take doctors, health centers, and anyone who helps another person access abortion to court and collect $10,000 for each abortion. This law is designed to intimidate physicians and other clinic staff out of providing abortion care. By continuing to provide abortion care, they could face ruinous financial penalties, legal costs, and court orders shutting their doors.
*Have more questions? Check back for another Q&A next month where we answer all your questions about Senate Bill 8, or fill out the form below with a question of your own.