On May 19, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into legislation the notorious SB 8 anti-abortion bill, aka the “heartbeat law,” which bans abortions after 6 weeks and enables anyone, regardless of where they reside, to sue abortion providers and those who provide financial assistance or transport to anyone trying to obtain an abortion after the six week cut off. On September 1 the legislation went into effect after the Supreme Court ignored an emergency appeal to block enforcement of the law.
The ban on abortions in Texas is devastating, but the provision for lawsuits will make it near impossible for any Texas resident to safely or easily obtain an abortion, even outside of the state. Plaintiffs in these lawsuits would be entitled to damages of at least $10,000, along with legal expenses. This legislation thus incentivizes and provides legal recourse for anti-choicers to mobilize against the right to abortion access. It allows them to sue not only abortion providers, but anyone who helps someone get an abortion, including by something as small as providing a ride to an abortion clinic. Just about anyone can be sued. It provides them material rewards to bring forward these lawsuits and threatens to bog abortion providers down in countless costly lawsuits.
According to The New York Times, this law bars care for at least 85 percent of Texas abortion patients. In addition to making abortion inaccessible for those people, it also means that many abortion clinics may close. Organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights have sued to block the law before it went into effect, but the Supreme Court has so far remained silent allowing S.B. 8 to become law. This is yet another blow against the fight for a basic health care service that should be indisputably free and readily available on demand.
As someone who grew up in the border city of El Paso, Texas, this is especially devastating to witness. I remember being saturated by conservative and anti-choice messages in El Paso. I thought it was ironic that people could care so much about an embryo or fetus, but were silent on the misogynistic femicides happening right across the border in towns meant to provide workers, products, and profits for U.S. imperialism. I felt haunted by the murders of women in Juarez, Mexico, and it was the first time I started to become aware of how women and other femmes are devalued due to racist patriarchal structures enforced by capitalism.
This “pro-life” hypocrisy remains true for those who give birth in Texas, as the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the nation, particularly among Black mothers. The lack of attention to that matter is racist and perfectly exemplifies the lie of the “pro-life” title anti-choicers proudly assert for themselves.
This fiction is again all too apparent in the actions of one such “pro-lifer,” Governor Gregg Abbot himself, who cut extra COVID unemployment benefits in June in an attempt to starve people back into unsafe work in the midst of a pandemic. Rather than a politics of life and healthcare, he’s playing COVID wars by banning mask and vaccine mandates, even as COVID-19 has killed more than 600,000 individuals in the United States alone. The truth is that conservatives are more interested in controlling pregnant people’s bodies than protecting life.
As a nurse practitioner who provides Medical (or drug induced) abortions to pregnant people in New York, I believe that abortion is an important health care service. Not only should it be legal, it should be free and accessible for anyone who needs it. It is an essential part of the fight for Medicare for All and ultimately nationalized healthcare under worker control. It’s folks like me and my co-workers, and the patients we serve, many of them essential workers themselves, who should be making decisions about healthcare, not politicians.
No one should have to justify why they are terminating a pregnancy, but as someone who has been involved in abortion work for over 8 years I’ve seen countless reasons as to why people have abortions, including reasons that have everything to do with the financial burdens created by capitalism.
I myself have experienced unintended pregnancies, one of which I chose to carry to term. I placed my child up for adoption when I was just twenty. It was a traumatic experience to give birth and then relinquish my parental rights. For years, I dealt with the shame and lack of support I felt as a birth mother, an identity that is not often discussed publicly. At the age of 27 I had an abortion at 6 weeks pregnant, shortly before I started nursing school at Yale University. Both experiences stand in contrast to one another: my abortion experience did not leave me traumatized like the adoption and loss of my child from my immediate life did.
One of the tragedies of the S.B. 8 legislation is that it will force many pregnant people to either carry their pregnancies to term or to navigate the impossible obstacles that stand between them and an abortion. S.B. 8 directly targets the working class, people of color, and immigrants because abortions will always be available to the wealthy who can afford to travel to places like New York. UCSF’s Turnaway Study found that those who were denied a wanted abortion and instead gave birth had four times greaters odds of living below the Federal Poverty Level. Additionally the minimum wage in Texas is $7.25, which means that for those who embark on the journey to get an abortion, they’d have to use a majority of their earnings towards travel expenses in addition to childcare, time off work, lodging, and the actual cost of the abortion service itself.
All of this is frustrating to watch as a health care worker who provides abortions every day. I think of my pregnant patient who I administered the abortion pills to after she was sexually assaulted by her husband. She told me about how she worried for her toddler daughter suffering from PTSD after her toddler witnessed the violent dynamic. “I can’t bring a new child into this situation,” my patient sobbed. If this patient lived in Texas, she would be forced to find the means to obtain an abortion or endure the possibility of exposing her newborn child to an abusive father. I’m certain there are numerous pregnant people in Texas facing similar struggles.
The strategy of much of the reproductive rights movement has been to bring lawsuits and hope the Supreme Court upholds reproductive rights. This has been a failing strategy. S.B. 8 is going into effect in Texas today. It’s just another piece of evidence that the court does not stand with people like my patients or the working class. It’s made evident in countless court cases, from the end of the eviction moratorium, to reinstating the “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy.
South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Idaho have also passed heartbeat bans, and Arkansas and Oklahoma approved near-total abortion bans. To defeat these bills working people must come together to fight for reproductive justice. We need to build a massive movement to defend reproductive rights that are under attack around the country. To do this we will need all feminist, immigrants rights, leftist organizations, and all healthcare unions to unite in this effort.