On Wednesday, Sept. 1, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to uphold what is now the most repressive abortion law in the United States. The structure of Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) mirrors the “heartbeat bills” of states like Georgia and Ohio, banning abortions past the detection of a fetal heartbeat. However, the law in Texas is the first to bypass federal blocking due to a backdoor provision that calls for enforcement by civil action rather than by the state itself. Instead of designating government officials to enforce the law, SB 8 gives citizens the ability to sue anyone who aids an unlawful abortion and allows them to collect at least $10,000 in the process.
The implementation of this law presents a terrifying reality for Texan women, as abortions are banned six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. Around 85% of all abortion procedures previously provided in the state of Texas would now be prohibited under the new law. Most women cannot even tell they are pregnant before the six-week mark. Forcing clinics to abide by this deadline virtually eliminates any possibility of receiving an abortion without breaking the law.
Consequently, this may propel many women to access abortions through unsafe methods, likely without assistance from the medical providers and doctors who are at risk of getting sued. Traveling across borders, taking harmful substances or allowing untrained individuals to terminate a pregnancy are all different routes women may choose when there is no safe alternative.
In the hours before the law went into effect, call centers transformed into helplines for desperate women. The law states that while patients themselves cannot be sued, citizens are free to sue clinics. This threat, along with the ban on abortions at six weeks of pregnancy, has contributed to a decline in the number of women coming into abortion clinics.
If clinics are found to be in violation of the law and sued, the ability for them to remain open becomes less and less likely. For those most vulnerable, including young, rural, low-income women and women of color, mass closure of abortion services presents a disproportionally harmful impact.
Pro-choice advocates have been rightfully alarmed at the spike in anti-abortion legislation over the past year. For anti-abortion leaders and proponents, the precedent that SB 8 sets may legitimize the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade and enacting similar laws nationwide.
Across the 47 states where restrictions have been introduced, there is enormous potential for this kind of strategy to be used when drafting new legislation. Additionally, enforcement by private action could be used to enact laws that restrict other federal rights. If a state wants to restrict anything from same-sex marriage to voter registration, they can simply justify it by enforcement through civil lawsuits rather than through government channels.
We cannot remain silent about this direct attack on the rights and safety of Texan women and we cannot let this new, terrifying reality in Texas become the standard for abortion access in the country.
The Biden administration has verbally attacked the law, calling it blatantly unconstitutional and suing Texas through the Justice Department on these grounds. However, there is no guarantee that this action will have the same impact as congressional legislation. The House of Representatives will soon vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act in the hopes of preserving abortion rights for women in all states. Putting pressure on our representatives to vote in favor of the bill can stop SB 8 and any future policies in its image.
It is just as important that we involve ourselves within our own communities. Supporting local organizations such as Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts and the Boston Abortion Support Collective can provide crucial assistance to women seeking resources and aid in the greater Boston area. Joining pro-choice organizations on campus is one way we can advocate for women’s reproductive rights. At Tufts, Students for NARAL fights for the right to choose through political advocacy and community engagement. As women’s rights are at risk of being ripped away, we must all do our part in protecting a woman’s right to choose.