Millions of Texans woke up today in a state where abortion not only suddenly became illegal, but where they can be sued for performing an abortion or assisting a loved one in obtaining an abortion. This “Handmaid’s Tale” situation is due to the Supreme Court’s deliberate refusal to block an unconstitutional law.
What makes the court’s inaction all the more culpable and shocking is its recent record of privileging religion in shadow docket cases. The court in the past year has ruled in favor of every religious group suing under emergency motions seeking special treatment in the past year, while the vast majority of emergency applications were otherwise denied, according to a Reuters study.
The Texas law going in effect today bans abortion procedures after six weeks of gestation — before most women even know that they are pregnant. Alarmingly, as noted, the law deputizes private citizens to file civil suits against abortion providers or anyone who assists someone in obtaining an abortion. As a reward for “turning in” these offenders, such citizen deputies will receive $10,000 and attorneys’ fees for a successful lawsuit.
This Texas abortion ban is the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country and dismantles the foundation of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion until fetal viability (around 24-26 weeks of gestation). The Supreme Court has previously acknowledged that medical determination is different for each pregnancy even in cases of later term abortions.
Disquietingly and cavalierly, the Supreme Court opted not to respond to emergency motions filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center of Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America to block this law, after the ultraconservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also refused to block enforcement of the law, thereby undoing nearly 50 years of precedent. The high court’s unconscionable inaction will embolden other hostile states to use this Texas anti-abortion bounty law as a blueprint.
The Texas abortion ban is rooted in religious faith that a human being begins with “ensoulment” at conception. Texas Right to Life, the Christian, anti-abortion group instrumental in the crafting of this legislation, describes itself as a group that “legally, peacefully and prayerfully protects the God-given Right to Life of innocent human beings from fertilization to natural death.” After this anti-abortion bill went into effect, the group tweeted “God Bless Texas.” When Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-abortion law, he commented, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion.”
Because of this religious imposition, Texas women will have to travel lengthy distances at exhorbitant prices, exacerbating the already severe economic inequalities affecting low-income women seeking abortion care.
The Supreme Court is slated to soon hear a major anti-abortion challenge to Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which concerns a Mississippi statute that bans most abortion care after 15 weeks of gestation. Given the court’s cruel silence on this Texas abortion ban, as well as its ultraconservative composition — including the replacement of pro-choice Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Amy Coney Barrett, a staunch anti-abortion Catholic conservative — the bans in Mississippi and Texas appear to be only the beginning of the onslaught of anti-abortion legislation.
Abortion is a safe medical procedure with a complication rate of less than a quarter of 1 percent. (For context, this is safer than wisdom teeth removals.) Abortion restrictions like the Texas law imperil women’s physical and emotional safety by forcing them to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or delaying early abortion care when it is the safest and most affordable.
That is why it is crucial to ask Congress to pass the federal Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect the right to abortion care throughout the United States. Additionally, it would eliminate medically unnecessary and burdensome restrictions like this egregious abortion ban in Texas. Please contact your legislators today and ask them to stand up for science and reproductive rights.
Even more important, we must expand and reform our packed federal judiciary immediately. Donald Trump invited the right-wing Federalist Society to seize control of the nation’s courts during his presidency. Without court reform, the constitutional right of privacy encompassing the right to contraception and abortion care will fall. So will enforcement of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which so wisely and necessarily separates religious dogma from government.