In May 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a piece of legislation that effectively bans abortion care after six weeks. Activists and advocates managed to prevent the law from taking effect initially, but now that the Supreme Court has refused to grant an emergency request to block the ban, it has proceeded to be implemented. Here’s what you need to know as the law takes effect in Texas.
How does the Texas abortion ban work?
Like many abortion bans, this law prohibits abortion care as soon as early cardiac activity can be detected, around the sixth week of pregnancy. While six weeks may sound like a long time, the clock begins on the date of a person’s last menstrual period—so for many people, the sixth week of pregnancy may be just two weeks after a missed period. For this reason, most abortions don’t take place until after this window closes. In Texas, at least 85 percent of abortions take place after the sixth week of pregnancy.
What makes this law uniquely egregious is how it is enforced. Unlike similar laws, the Texas abortion ban doesn’t rely on state officials. Instead, the law authorizes private citizens to sue anyone who helps a person obtain abortion care after six weeks. Anyone can be sued, from doctors to rideshare drivers to friends and family. In addition, the law offers a $10,000 reward to those who win their lawsuits. The result is a bounty system that incentivizes anti-abortion vigilantes to interfere with abortion care.
How does the Texas abortion ban impact young people?
Young people are especially impacted by the Texas abortion ban. Already, young people are more likely to need abortion care and less likely to be able to access it for logistical and financial reasons. Even before this ban, Texas already had a myriad of abortion restrictions in place such as parental consent and notification requirements, biased counseling to discourage and shame those seeking an abortion, mandatory and medically unnecessary ultrasound requirements, limited coverage of abortions under private and public insurance, and a 24 hour waiting period. The Texas abortion ban adds to the burden young people face by making it so that nearly anyone seeking abortion care after the sixth week of pregnancy must travel out of state, imposing a huge cost in terms of money and time that many young people are unable to afford. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that because of S.B. 8, the average one-way driving distance to an abortion clinic would increase from 17 miles to 247 miles, more than 14 times the distance for care. Young people from Black, Latinx, rural, undocumented, and low-income communities are even less likely to be able to make the journey.
While the Supreme Court’s decision not to block the Texas abortion ban is a major blow for reproductive rights, the battle isn’t over yet. In early September, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas over the new abortion ban. The Department of Justice is seeking a judgment declaring the Texas abortion ban invalid, as well as a “preliminary and permanent injunction against the State of Texas—including all of its officers, employees, and agents, including private parties” involved in enforcing the abortion ban.
Texas offers us a lesson: fighting for abortion rights on the state level is necessary, but isn’t enough. If we want to protect abortion rights in America, we need action at all levels of government, especially at the federal level. Join us in calling for lawmakers to adopt a proactive abortion agenda and secure the right of every American to safe abortion care.