Texas abortion bill: What it is and how abortion laws are changing

Anti-Abortion protestors stand near the Texas state capitol in May. Photo courtesy of a New York Times article from Sept. 5.

Lucinda Judd | Staff Writer

Beginning Sept. 1 Texas has some of the most restrictive laws against abortion in the United States, prohibiting abortions past six weeks of pregnancy.

The bill was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 19, and went into effect at the start of this month. It was a blow to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which protected reproductive freedom. The Supreme Court decided against blocking the bill in a 5 to 4 decision the same night it was scheduled to go into effect. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined all of the liberal justices in dissenting.

Texas Senate Bill 8 is different from other heartbeat bills in other states; it calls upon civilians to enforce it by sueing other individuals. Section 171.208 of the bill describes the rewards a civilian may receive for winning their court case including $10,000 and money for legal fees. This creates a civilian bounty-system, offering up monetary rewards for information on those that have an abortion later than the six-week period. 

Who does the bill affect?

The bill says that anyone that “aids and abets” in the procedure is opening themselves up to legal prosecution. This includes the doctors and staff in the clinics, therapists, counselors, anyone that assisted in paying and those that provided transportation such as Uber and Lyft drivers. This does not include the women who actually get the abortion. 

Both Uber and Lyft have put out statements saying they will defend drivers in court if needed.

This bill is also different in that it not only relies on civilian enforcers, but there are also no exception in cases of rape or incest. The only exception is if the life of the woman is endangered or will become so by continuing the pregnancy.

What are people saying about it?

President Joe Biden, in response to a question about the bill, called it “un-American” and said it created a “vigilante system.” (Watch the full response here.)

“It’s a blatant violation of the right established by Roe V. Wade,” Biden said in a statement. “We will protect and defend that right.”

Vice President Harris has also made statements disagreeing with S.B. 8 and its constitutionality, but the White House has yet to introduce a plan or steps to counteract or challenge the bill.

Additionally, Drucilla Tigner, the policy and advocacy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas released a statement in response to the bill.

“Not only does this ban violate more than half a century of Supreme Court caselaw, it paves the way for anti-choice extremists to use our court system to go after anyone who performs abortions or considers supporting a person that has one,” Tigner said. 

Dr. Robin Pierucci, Chair of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) Pro-Life Committee called the bill “something to genuinely celebrate.” Doctors from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) disagreed in their own statement released Sept. 1. 

“Patients and those they trust, including the clinicians who are dedicated to ensuring they can access respectful care, deserve better than this harmful law,” said Maureen G. Phipps, chief executive officer of the ACOG. 

U.S. congressmen from Texas have been relatively silent about the bill, with only three of the 23 Republican House members praising it publically, ​​including Rep. Chip Roy, Rep. Ronny Jackson and Rep. Dan Crenshaw. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have not spoken specifically on S.B. 8, according to Newsweek

What about your state as of Jan. 1, 2021?

In Ohio, abortions are legal up to 20 weeks postfertilization. Abortions 22 weeks after the last menstrual period and on are legal only if the life of the mother is endangered or there is severly compromised health.

State-directed counseling must be given in person and discourages an abortion. After the counseling the woman must wait 24 hours before the operation. The patient must also have an ultrasound performed and be offered a view of the image.

In Illinois, abortions are legal up to the point of viability which is approximately between weeks 24 and 28. Abortions after the viability of the fetus may be performed if the life or health of the patient is in danger.

In Florida, abortions are legal up to 24 weeks postfertilization unless in cases of life endangerment. Similar to Ohio, state-directed counseling must be provided and the patient must receive an ultrasound where they will be offered an image.

In New York, abortions are legal up until viability of the fetus. Abortions at or past the point of viability are legal only if the patient’s life or heath is in severe danger.

Additional states and information can be found on the Guttmacher Institute website, however it has not yet been updated to reflect the recently passed legislation in Texas.

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