The state of Texas recently put Senate Bill 8 into law, banning most abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy. The law also authorizes private citizens to enforce it, essentially granting them the ability to be “abortion bounty hunters”. Here is a quick overview of the law:
The law bans abortions after approximately 6 weeks in the state of Texas. This is a time when many people do not yet know they are pregnant, at just 2 or fewer weeks after a missed period.
No exceptions can be made in cases of:
Nonviable pregnancies with detectable cardiac activity.
Cases where the fetus has an untreatable and fatal condition.
Exceptions can be made for “medical emergencies,” though the law does not define what that means. This leaves doctors to determine whether patients qualify.
Private citizens are welcome to pursue lawsuits against any individual that aids or performs an abortion, including clinic employees, doctors, receptionists, ride-share drivers, insurers, and friends or family that provide financial support.
Private citizens that bring a lawsuit and are successful will have their legal fees reimbursed and receive $10,000, all paid by the defendant. If a defendant wins, they will not receive reimbursement of their legal fees.
While several states have tried to ban abortions in recent decades, they have not been able to get past the courts. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not block the new Texas law by declining the appeal with a narrow 5-4 majority. The Supreme Court’s ruling was not based on the constitutionality of the law, but rather, that they did not have the right to get involved in the dispute until they deem it ready for a full hearing on merits. As such, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the Texas law is unconstitutional, meaning that the law could still be legally challenged in the future.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the high court will consider the new Texas law on merits anytime soon. They will, however, be reviewing the constitutionality of abortion in an upcoming term case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could threaten Roe v. Wade. In the meantime, several other states are making moves to introduce bills that mimic Texas, including Arkansas, Florida, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma - among others.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced its plan to sue Texas regarding the law, citing that it is clearly unconstitutional. While this is a good first step, more needs to be done to protect women and pregnant people - particularly those of color. The ruling in Texas affects Black women disproportionately, accounting for 25% of abortions in Texas (but only making up 13% of the state population). Leaving the state for access to abortion healthcare requires the ability to take off work, find childcare (for existing parents), and have access to the financial resources needed to travel. A lack of access to safe and affordable healthcare and abortions was already a problem for many people in Black communities due to the racism embedded in our country’s various systems - this law only further exacerbates it.
“While we welcome this step in the right direction, we need more action. This lawsuit must be the first step of an all-out federal response to fight back against this assault on all women and pregnant people — especially Black women.” - Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda
Get to the point: The state of Texas recently passed a law that bans nearly all abortions and encourages private citizens to help enforce the law through litigation. This law is an assault on all women and pregnant people, and is likely to impact Black communities the most due to existing disparities in access to safe and affordable healthcare in the United States. Due to the Supreme Court’s decision to decline an appeal of the law, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is planning to sue Texas, citing that the law is clearly unconstitutional. While this is a good first step, more needs to be done to protect women and pregnant people in this country.