Texas’ restrictive six-week abortion ban went before the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday with arguments from the state and abortion providers. For context, Senate Bill 8 denies pregnant people access to an abortion after six weeks and deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who aids and abets an abortion. This includes family members, abortion providers, or even a ride share driver who takes someone to the clinic.
If successful, private citizens could receive up to $10,000 in court and according to Senior Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights and arguing attorney Marc Hearron, even with a favorable decision by the state supreme court, the law remains in effect.
“At this point, the best outcome we can get in this case would be a ruling blocking state licensing officials from disciplining doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and facilities or revoking those facility licenses for violating SB 8,” Hearron said. “But that will not stop individuals from filing lawsuits under SB 8. It will not stop the bounty hunting scheme or fully restore abortion access across the state.”
In December, the United States Supreme Court ruled to send the case back to the lower courts and refused to halt the law based on its unconstitutionality.
Because of SCOTUS inaction, the fate of many Texans lay in the hands of the Republican appointed Texas Supreme Court to define the specifics of the law and if state officials can enforce it.
In the words of Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas has essentially outlawed abortion. And according to abortion providers, forced patients to seek care in other states, including Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas and even Florida.
It’s been six months since the strict law went into effect, but for abortion providers across Texas and neighboring states its felt like years.
In a press conference with abortion providers and attorneys on the Whole Womens Health v. Jackson case, Amy Hagstom Miller, CEO of Whole Womens Health and plaintiff in the case, said the clinics are overbooked, staff members are overwhelmed and patients are scared.
“We now see people calling in for appointments even before a pregnancy is detectable rushing in before they miss a period afraid they will be denied the right to a safe abortion in Texas when they need it,” Miller said. “Every abortion ban creates a human rights tragedy.”
Because of the strict law, Texas abortion funds have taken a whole new role in the fight for access to care. Executive Director at Jane’s Due Process Rosann Mariappuram called the ban racist and highlighted the potential detriment to the health of pregnant Texans.
“At Jane’s Due Process 85 percent of our clients seeking abortion care identify as Black, indigenous, or youth of color,” Mariappuram said. “Black women in Texas and nationally already see higher maternal mortality rates than other populations, another example of how reproductive health care access has been damaged by these racist laws.”
So abortion providers, advocates, and allies are keeping a close eye on how Senate votes for the Women’s Health Protection Act which would codify Roe v. Wade protections of federal law. Equally important, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the act in September of last year.
The vote is set for Monday, Feb. 28 and could help abortion providers federally, but for the pregnant Texans time is of the essence and the future of the nation’s most restrictive abortion law remains uncertain.
“We see women who are crying because they can’t understand how anybody could have so much control over their lives,” Kathaleen Pittman, Clinic Administrator at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana said. “The women we see for the most part live at or below the poverty level, they are not women who can hop on a plane and fly to New York or California.”