On September 1st 2021, the “Heartbeat Bill” was passed in Texas, outlawing abortions after about six weeks, which for many women, is before they even know they are pregant. Most notably, this abortion ban does not make any exceptions for survivors of rape or incest. In addition, the role of enforcing this ban has fallen on citizens, in the form of civil lawsuits. The government’s deputization of citizens will turn neighbor against neighbor, and incentivizes plaintiffs with a $10,000 reward if they win the lawsuit.
The cash “prize” puts a bounty on women’s heads, and financially incentivizes citizens to sue as many people as they can. Although the patients of the belived abortion cannot be sued, anyone who aided the patient in their abortion is at risk of being sued. This includes anyone from the uber driver who drove the patient to the Planned Parenthood clinic, to the partner who helped pay for the abortion, to the doctor who carried out the operation. This risk of being sued as an accomplice will cause a sense of distrust and weariness between friends, coworkers, drivers, and family.
In addition, plaintiffs only need to have “reasonably believed” that an abortion had taken place to file for a lawsuit. This means that someone could have no concrete evidence, yet file a lawsuit, causing the defendant (who may be innocent) to be swamped in legal fees. Those who have the financial privilege to take time off work to go out of state to get an abortion will. On the other hand, underpriviledged working class women will not have access to the out-of-statelegal abortions, and may turn to illegal ones.
Abortions, legal or not, have been happening for hundreds of years , so legislation that “bans” abortions only forces women to turn to illegal, and potentially lethal abortions. It is quite ironic that the slogan for anti-abortion organizations is “pro-life,” when the banning of safe and legal abortions causes an uptick in illegal abortions, many of which result in the death of the patient.
In 1970, just over 50 years ago, Jane Roe(anonymous plaintiff) filed a lawsuit against district attorney David Wade of Dallas Texas, challenging the state legislation that criminalized all abortions except in the case of a life-saving procedure. She claimed the bill was unconstitutional in its lack of descriptive and substantive legitimization, and an infringement on personal privacy protected by five separate constitutional amendments. Nearly five decades ago, Roe won this case on those merits, and the Supreme court ruled in a seven to two majority that getting an abortion is a personal choice, and any restrictions placed on that right within the first trimester of pregnancy are inherently unconstitutional.
So why now – in 2021 – are we seeing a continuous deconstruction of this ruling with bills like the “Heartbeat Bill” being passed, seemingly in direct violation of Roe V. Wade? Through empowering individual citizens to sue “abortion aids”, rather than imposing direct state policy, the bill becomes much harder to knock down on federal appeal. Effectively the bill is working through loopholes in current policy to over-police women’s bodies. Not only is this incentivization program ridiculously unjust to individuals simply trying to exercise control over their own bodies and minds, but it also wastes federal resources. Like most states exiting the pandemic, Texas courthouses are months behind on casework, and this legislation distracts from the actual substantive trials which could be taking up judges time.
The ban makes Texas’ priorities clear: not to make the state a safer place, not to make women’s lives safer, but to exercise misogynistic control over women’s lives. Abortions are inevitable, the data makes that clear as day, the question is whether the state of Texas is willing to facilitate safe environments for the procedures to take place, or ifpoor women will have to risk their lives to avoid having babies they aren’t prepared to mother.