Pro-choice advocates in Texas have long warned that the right to abortion in the state has been suffering a slow death by 1,000 cuts.
With a new law banning abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy set to remain in effect until further notice, abortion providers and abortion fund groups worry the constitutional right may have suffered its last cut.
Kelly Hart, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas estimated that prior to the law, more than eight out of ten women who were seeking abortion services were past six weeks pregnant.
The new ban, layered atop restrictions passed in previous years, means the majority of abortion services and procedures in the state will come to a grinding halt.
The six-week window essentially gives women two weeks after missing their menstrual period to confirm their pregnancy and seek an abortion, which in Texas, requires a sonogram, biased state-directed counseling, a 24-hour waiting period in between appointments with providers, and other restrictions such as parental consent for minors.
“There are all these barriers that have been put in place, and this [new law] just kicks it all into high gear, and effectively means that abortion is unavailable in the state of Texas for the vast majority of people who have or will make that decision,” Hart said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissenting opinion against the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court vote that allowed the law to remain described the legislation as a “near-categorical ban” on abortions since the six-week window occurs at a time before many women realize they are pregnant.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas will continue to provide abortions that are allowed under the new law, as well as continue to offer other unaffected medical services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings. Other clinics may not be so lucky and may have to close due to a lack of patients.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which services Central, West, and North Texas, has also already begun preparing to connect patients past their sixth week of pregnancy with outside help so they can recieve an abortion in other states.
Hart said this news will come as a shock to many patients calling their hotlines.
“Imagine you call to make an appointment and being told that you can’t,” Hart said. “And you’ve thought about it, you’ve made this decision to have an abortion, and now you’re just being told no: we can’t give it to you here in Texas. We’re gonna try to help you get it in Oklahoma, or Arkansas, New Mexico, wherever,” Hart said.
Lilith Fund, the oldest abortion fund in the state providing financial assistance for the procedure, is already experiencing a decline in requests for aid.
“We’re actually hearing much more silence on our hotline this morning than we usually would,” Cristina Parker, a spokesperson for the fund told the Signal on Wednesday. “And that’s very sad because we know that people aren’t able to get their appointments, so they have no need to call us.”
“Two weeks is nothing,” Parker said of the small window women have to discover their pregnancy and navigate the state’s draconic abortion restrictions. “This is really taking away people’s choices before they even know they have a choice to make.”
Texas’ latest anti-choice law follows years of restrictive legislation by the Republican-controlled state legislature. Texas lawmakers have enacted more than two dozen abortion-related restrictions in the past decade that have reduced the number of abortion clinics operating in the state by half, an ongoing tally by the pro-choice research and policy organization Guttmacher Institute finds.
And more restrictive laws are on their way. GOP lawmakers this special session are working on a bill that similarly targets medicated abortions.
The ban at six weeks of pregnancy is the first of its kind to take effect in the country, said Joanna Grossman, a legal expert with Jane’s Due Process, an abortion fund in Texas that helps teens access care and recieve legal help with parental consent laws.
“As a practical matter, there will be almost no situation in which a teen can get an abortion,” Grossman said, citing time and travel constraints or delays that may arise in cases where parents of a minor don’t consent to the abortion, which would require a court intervention that could put teens at risk of missing the six-week window to receive the procedure.
Grossman also raised concerns with the most controversial and shocking aspect of the new law — a bounty system that allows private citizens to sue anyone “aiding and abetting” a prohibited abortion, offering whistleblowers a chance to recieve $10,000 if they win in court.
In an op-ed for the Signal, Caroline Duble, political director of the pro-choice advocacy group Avow warned that the provision meant, “a nosey neighbor could sue a mother for giving her daughter a ride to get an abortion; or a classmate could be sued for giving a friend $20, even if they didn’t know it would be used to obtain an abortion.”
This strange form of enforcement for the law is no accident. Typically, lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of abortion laws are levied against state officials for state action, but the new law creates civil liabilities for “aiding and abetting” the prohibited abortions.
That confusing argument has encouraged the conservative U.S. Supreme Court to not weigh in on the anti-choice law, at least for now. “It is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention,” read the court’s opinion.
Grossman said the bounty system set up by lawmakers is unworkable and unprecedented, and if applied to other areas of the law, would collapse the legal system.
“The idea that anybody can sue anybody, with no harm, no standing, no injury, just ‘I don’t like how you live and now I can sue you for that,’ that can’t be how the legal system works,” Grossman said.
Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org