Strict Texas Abortion Laws Call For Individuals to Enforce Them

Texas has introduced the strictest Abortion Laws in the US, allowing private citizens to enforce them.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

Last week Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that prohibits abortions in Texas as early as six weeks – before many women even know they are pregnant.

And a pivotal part of the new law is that the signing of the bill allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and those who help women get abortions, including those who provide financial aid or even drive them to a clinic.

The law is facing challenges from individuals, organisations and governments. And we are yet to see if there is any way to stop it.

The “Heartbeat” Bill

The Bill prohibits abortion after an ultrasound can detect what lawmakers define as a foetal “heartbeat”. This can be as early as six weeks.

Many other states have attempted these kinds of strict measures but have been blocked by anti-abortion organisations and the federal government. And notably, while some other states and countries do have similar bills passed, the Texan law goes further.

The Bill is heightened by a system of denouncement. It allows private citizens the power to sue anyone who provides an abortion or helps someone to get an abortion, causing confusion and panic for many in America.

Under the law, anyone who successfully sues someone that has aided an abortion could be awarded at least $10,000. And the Texas Right to Life organisation has set up a website where people can submit anonymous tips about anyone who they believe are violating the law.

This has pushed Texas law into unprecedented legal areas making it incredibly difficult for Federal governments and the Department of Justice to challenge.

Photo Credit: US News

Challenging the Bill

Despite widespread support, naturally, there has been outrage and criticism. But while the Supreme Court denied their ability to block the ban, President Joe Biden has condemned the law as “un-American” and an “unprecedented assault on constitutional rights”. And he has directed the Justice Department to try to find a way to block its enforcement.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland has confirmed that the Department of Justice is “urgently” exploring ways to challenge the strict new abortion law. Yet there has been no indication as to how they are going to do this. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also pledged to call a vote on a measure that would protect abortion access for women.

According to Texas Tribune, Texans have been flooding clinics in neighbouring states where abortion laws are less strict. And many non-profits and private companies have raised funds to support travel for those who cannot afford to leave the state.

Companies including Lyft and Uber have also issued statements denouncing the laws and the impact it has on working people. They have stated that drivers are not responsible for where their passengers are going and it is unacceptable for them to be criminally responsible or break the law in doing their jobs. Both have agreed to cover legal costs for drivers sued under the strict law.

The Abortion Divide

Demonstrations in Poland 2020. Photo Credit: The New York Times.

There will always be a divide on social justice issues including abortion. Pro-life supporters focus on an unborn foetus while pro-choice supporters focus on women. Under the nature of democracy and nature itself, people should be free to have their own opinions. As such, laws should enable options so people can make their own decisions in regard to their bodies.

But the strict Texas laws violate the precedent set by Roe vs Wade. The 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalised abortion throughout the US. And it determined the legal threshold for prohibiting abortion from the point of “viability”, at about 23-24 weeks.

Setting a limit before many even know they are pregnant and lacking exceptions for rape, incest or any other circumstances forces women to have children. Enabling such a restrictive law is harming women and limits fundamental human rights and reproductive autonomy.

And a key issue is that anti-abortion law does not limit the number of abortions. Rather it just increases harm and mortality with higher numbers of illegal and unsafe abortions.

The reactions to the Texas Law were similar to that in Poland last year when the Polish government announced the strictest abortion laws yet. This led to women’s strikes, demonstrations and support for women globally. And many organisations, companies and millions of individuals opposed the anti-abortion laws, flooding social media.

Going Forward

Photo Credit: Time Magazine.

In the historical and longstanding battle for women’s and reproductive rights, this is a major setback.

Prohibiting women’s access to abortion restricts those who actually need it. This is because it removes choice, forcing women into a legal exercise of only anti-abortion values. But allowing women to have access to abortion would give all women legal freedom regardless of their beliefs. Freedom for women to use the opportunity, and freedom for those who do not support the option to not use it.

But beyond issues with anti-abortion law itself, the Texan rule is strategically drafted to make challenging the law difficult. And further, the Texas government’s dependency on individuals for enforcement has exacerbated discrimination against women to unmatched levels in the US. And these laws have ultimately created an even bigger divide on the war on women.

We are yet to see whether the Department of Justice will be able to stop the law.

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