Texas has been at the center of a national debate on abortion rights that culminated in an extremely restrictive law that deputized the public and made abortion pills a controlled substance. Now, six months after the controversial law was passed, we are taking a look at how things have changed and where the state will take things next.
The Abortion Bill
Senate Bill 8 is the most restrictive abortion ban in American history. Signed into law by Gov. Abbott in May of 2021, this bill sparked a national debate about the interference of the government in reproductive health and has inspired other states to draft bans of their own.
SB 8 does not criminalize abortions per se, but it does establish harsh penalties for medical practitioners who perform abortions. The Texas legislature has hinted that they intend to pave the way for criminalization in the future, but for now, no one can be sent to jail for an abortion.
At its core, the bill is a ban meant to punish and discourage abortions across the state. It establishes a limit for abortions to six weeks meaning abortions after six weeks of gestation is against the law. This is not the first time a state has drafted a ban on abortions, and many have dormant laws that could come into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
The most alarming clause of SB 8 has become a frightening example of the consequences of constitutional loopholes. Gov. Abbott and the bill’s supporters included a clause that deputizes Texans and enables them to report abortions to the state and local law enforcement. Anyone can bring a case to the court in a civil suit and could be awarded $10,000 and attorney’s fees for their efforts. Since the signing of the law, the anonymous reporting forum has been removed and it is unclear whether the $10,000 bounty remains in effect.
Not only are all citizens encouraged to report abortions, but anyone also who assists a person in getting one could face punishment. Uber drivers, insurance providers, bus drivers, family members, friends, and coworkers could all be held responsible for assisting an abortion.
So, after six months where does SB 8 stand, and what happens next?
Two Steps Back
Since the law came into effect, the number of people ordering abortion pills by mail has increased exponentially – something that Gov. Abbott and others view as taking two steps back from the goal. In fact, orders to out-of-state and overseas suppliers increased exponentially since the bill was signed. Aid Access, an online pharmaceutical supplier reported that they received over 1,800 orders in September 2021 alone.
Additionally, abortion clinics in other states have reported a sharp increase in the number of patients from Texas. In fact, the numbers and demand are so high that residents are seeking abortive procedures elsewhere.
Legal researcher, Sara Ainsworth, told ABC News that it’s not illegal to order and use abortion pills which makes cracking down on these medications difficult for legislators. They can control supply within the state, but there are no legal grounds for stopping distributors outside of state lines.
These factors have made many SB 8 supporters frustrated. They feel as though their efforts have been set back, but on the other hand, pregnant people and residents feel similarly. Other states besides Texas have instituted similar bans or are working on drafting them. This would force those seeking abortions to travel further and take more risks than before.
Abortion clinics anticipate an 85% decrease in procedures because of the law over the next year. Already, abortions are down by 60% from 2020 and the numbers keep dropping. While legislators see pills and access as setbacks, patients feel as though their reproductive rights have fallen by the wayside. Many are concerned that the law will continue to evolve until abortion procedures are completely illegal and inaccessible.
The Future of Abortion in TX
It is unclear how the ban will evolve but one thing is certain: prohibition of any kind does not stop the demand. No matter how fervently the Governor and his supporters may wish to institute harsh restrictions, those in need of an abortion will find a provider wherever they can.
However, that does not stop legislators from looking for more loopholes in the law. The Supreme Court has already condoned the abortion ban which is a huge step toward national bans and further restrictions. Roe v. Wade remains in effect, but more challenges are coming to the courtroom over the next year.
This matter is not only a restriction of reproductive health, but also interference into constitutional and human rights. Whenever such a challenge to the Constitution arises, it is cause for concern and the nation continues to watch expectantly for further developments.
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