On September 1, a Texas law banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat to effect. Here are five stories to read if you're trying to understand the implications of the law.
For Vox, Anna North discusses the dramatic impact the new Texas abortion law will have on reproductive health in the state. North writes: “On September 1, nearly all abortions became illegal in Texas,” with the six-week ban creating a barrier to abortion before many women know they’re pregnant. This Texas so-called heartbeat bill is the first of its kind to take effect, and it took unusual tactics to achieve this goal, empowering citizens--not state officials--to enforce the law. While the law could be found unconstitutional in the months to come, at present, there is no functional right to an abortion in Texas. North goes on to explain the machinations of heartbeat bills, including the fact that the cardiac activity detectable at this early date is not typically a true heartbeat, and traces the proliferation of these bills across state legislatures since 2011. North ends by foreshadowing what seems to be a dire future for the American right to an abortion.
Sabrina Tavernise dives deeper into the unprecedented structure of the Texas law for The New York Times, calling it “a legal innovation with broad implications for the American court system.” Within this legal framework, ordinary citizens can sue clinics or others who "aid and abet" an illegal abortion--defined as one taking place after the detection of a fetal heartbeat--and can win $10,000 per abortion if they are successful. Tavernise writes that this convoluted system makes it difficult to challenge the bill before being enforced, as those seeking to block it don’t know who to sue--meaning the bill would have to take effect in order to eventually be blocked. This will shape the lives of countless women in the meantime, denying them control over their reproductive health. Tavernise cites legal experts who are concerned over the consequences this type of law could have for the legal system writ large, as it deputizes everyday citizens to enforce a law that may have no direct bearing on their own lives. At the end of her piece, Tavernise turns toward the logical end of these suits: reproductive health clinics that provide abortions will shut down.
This piece by Shefali Luthra for The 19th picks up where Tavernise leaves off, detailing the impact on abortion clinics as this law stays in place. Luthra warns that, even if the law is eventually overturned, “it will almost certainly be too late for Texas abortion providers.” One legal expert argues that merely by letting this law take effect, the Supreme Court has essentially ended legal abortion in Texas. Beyond closing clinics, the end of abortion in Texas is partially attributable to the chilling effect that the vague “aiding and abetting” section of the law may have on Texans. Unsure of what constitutes “aiding and abetting” an abortion, Texans may refrain from giving someone money for an abortion or driving them to an appointment. Luthra then highlights the impact this law is already having, as both Planned Parenthood and Whole Women’s Health have stopped scheduling abortions after the six-week mark. She characterizes the future as uncertain, as it remains to be seen what exactly the Biden administration will do to defend abortion access, how the Supreme Court will react to further challenges, and how long it could take abortion providers to recoup in the event that the law is overturned.
4. 400 calls, no more appointments: Texas abortion clinic scrambles to see patients before 6-week ban may take effect
The Lily’s Caroline Kitchener follows the work of Kathy Kleinfeld, an employee at Houston Women’s Reproductive Services, in the days leading up to the implementation of the abortion ban. Staff at this abortion provider were handling as many as seven calls at once, asking women the date of their last period and counseling those past the six-week mark to leave the state. They had no available appointments before September 1, despite clinics like this one “working overtime to squeeze in as many appointments as possible.” Between 9:30 AM and noon, Kleinfeld claims they received more than 400 calls--four times what they would typically expect. With no open appointments, they could only direct these hundreds of women to a provider in Tulsa, a seven-and-a-half-hour drive away. One counselor remarks that the modern state of abortion rights makes her “feel like [she’s] on a conveyor belt going backward,” a harrowing vision for the future.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Mary Tuma first describes the new Texas law before arguing that “this sweeping piece of legislation didn’t come out of nowhere.” While the United States is in the midst of a maternal mortality crisis, Texas stands above the already high US maternal mortality rate. The extension of Medicaid benefits until one year postpartum would be a crucial step in addressing this death rate, but this has yet to happen. In May, the Texas legislature could only muster an extension that pushed the 60 days postpartum Medicaid timeline to 6 months. The legislature continues to resist the expansion of Medicaid services to cover more uninsured Texans and regularly limits access to family planning services. When it comes to abortion, Tuma positions this latest ban within a decades-long erosion of abortion rights in Texas. Tuma leaves the reader with a reminder that the devastation that this law will bring to any number of women can trace its origin to a deeply reactionary political culture.
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