Texas’ new Abortion Law: A Frightening step back for Women’s Rights

Last Wednesday, the US Supreme Court decided in favour of Texas banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and harshly criminalising anyone involved. This law is now the most restrictive in the US and the most urgent threat to legal abortion since the landmark case of Roe v Wade in 1973. Falsely dubbed as ‘The Heartbeat Bill’[1], the ruling prohibits any termination of a pregnancy once cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo, regardless of situations such as rape or incest.

 It seems implausible that such a restrictive law could be passed today in the US, where a woman’s right to an abortion up to 24 weeks was established over half a century ago. However, a new legislative loophole targeting those providing the abortion rather than the woman herself has enabled this U-turn. The law allows doctors, staff and even a patient’s Uber driver to become potential defendants, labelling as ‘aiding and abetting.’ It is also citizens and not the state who will enforce the law and Texas Right to Life has already set up a ‘whistleblower’ website where anyone can submit anonymous tips, or those violating the law can be directly sued for at least $10,000. This system threatens to divide the people of Texas, and could cause the topic of abortion to become even more taboo among women, for fear of being prosecuted.

It’s not difficult to see how limiting and restrictive a 6-week time frame is when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. The bill allows only two weeks for a woman to both recognise her condition and decide on an abortion. Due to a whole host of reasons such as irregular cycles and women not tracking their period, it is both possible and common for women to not know they are pregnant at 6-weeks. Abortion providers in Texas have estimated that 85-90% of terminations in the state are now expected to be blocked. The measures are even more restricting for vulnerable women  – those with disabilities that make travelling across state lines more difficult, low-income women without health insurance who would have to come up with $550 within a couple of weeks, and women of colour who made up 70% of the abortions that were provided in Texas in 2019.

Teenagers are also disproportionately at risk, particularly in Texas. Currently, teaching High-School aged children about birth control methods beyond abstinence is optional, and it is completely prohibited in Middle-Schools. ’The state also requires minors to obtain permission from a parent or guardian to gain access to abortion care, which can often lead to delays that go far past the first few weeks of a pregnancy, especially considering that teenagers often don’t discover that they are pregnant until later on in the pregnancy. In a country where more than 200,000 children under the age of 18 were married between 2000-2015 (87% of whom were girls), this raises serious concerns about enabling statutory rape and incest – which the bill of course does not make any exceptions for. However, it shouldn’t take these kinds of disgusting and traumatic events to convince law-makers that women should be entitled to have control over their own bodies.

The ease in which millions of women have now been denied access to decisions regarding their own health in a country which prides itself as being ‘the land of the free’ is alarming for women across the US. ‘The fact that five of the nine justices permitted it to go into effect, suggests there is a functioning majority on the court prepared to scrap the Roe v Wade decision and Republican leaders in six US states are already attempting to pursue Texas’ lead. This means there is a serious threat to women’s reproductive rights looming all over the US and Texas is just the start.

[1] Cardiac activity is not the same as a heartbeat. At six weeks the heart has not been formed yet.

Featured Image: BBC