If you feel like your head is spinning just trying to keep up with all the legal and political drama happening across the country, you’re not alone. From gun laws (or lack thereof) to anti-abortion laws to anti-transgender laws, there’s a lot going on.
Sadly, much of it feels alarming in terms of human rights abuses, specifically protecting the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
While it can be infuriating and devastating and make you feel downright pissed, it is essential to be aware of these laws and how they are changing and understand how they are putting human rights at risk for a number of communities in this country.
Just glance at the headlines, and you’ll see a laundry list of events attacking the rights of Americans — mass shootings targeting minority communities and children, politicians attacking women’s rights, anti-LGBTQ+ bills, and public discrimination. It can often feel hopeless and exhausting just trying to understand how in 2022, so many legislations could effectively target and attack human rights in America. And yet, here we are.
So, let’s look at three laws that are putting human rights at risk in this country. It’s far from a comprehensive list — the harsh reality is that the list of legislations being passed that threaten our human rights is growing fast and furiously — but it’s a place to start.
Knowledge is power, and understanding how these laws impact us all is just the beginning of the fight to protect the rights of these communities.
Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws in Texas
Laws restricting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community have been on the rise in recent years — with nearly 670 anti-LGBTQ bills being filed since 2018. In addition, 2022 has shown record discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, especially the trans community. According to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, there have been 238 anti-LGBTQ bills in less than three months of 2022.
Those legislations attack representation in the school curriculum and permit discrimination against LGBTQ people because of religious exemption. Appalling, we know.
In Texas, recent legislation is targeting trans student-athletes, requiring transgender student-athletes to compete on sports teams that match their sex assigned at birth.
In addition, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced earlier this year that “a wide variety of elective procedures for gender transitioning, including reassignment surgeries that can cause sterilization, mastectomies, removals of otherwise healthy body parts, and administration of puberty-blocking drugs or supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen” were considered child abuse, and would be investigated as child abuse in Texas.
He tasked the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) with investigating and reporting instances of “these abusive procedures in the State of Texas.”
Under his law, providing gender-affirming medical treatments to transgender youths who are in dire need of medical care and support will be considered abuse. Medical practitioners are required to report any parents who aid their child in accessing such care.
Even worse, this is not the first anti-trans legal attack in Texas, nor will it be the last.
In 2017 Texas lawmakers required transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their “biological sex” and not their gender, thanks to support from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), even though the bill is discriminatory and dangerous for trans youth.
More recently, in May 2021, the Texas State Senate committee introduced the “Bathroom Bill 2.0.,” which would ban transgender girls from playing public school sports with those assigned females at birth.
The never-ending attacks on trans rights and human rights of the larger LGBTQ+ community are ramping up, with Republican Texas lawmakers hell-bent on limiting the rights of trans youth.
Some political experts believe these laws are an effort to appeal to conservative voters by targeting a vulnerable group in an election year.
“So, the aim here is to try to suggest that there is something threatening children in the schools. Of course, these trans kids aren’t threatening anyone, but that’s the aim of the bills — to kind of conjure up a scare because people’s instinct is to protect their kids when they’re under threat or perceived to be under threat,” argues Susan Burgess, a political science professor at Ohio University.
It’s essential to keep an eye on these Texas laws because they are not unique to that state and will likely be cut and pasted in other states and communities.
Anti-Abortion Laws in Texas (and Other Red States)
The country, and the world, are waiting with bated breath to see if the U.S. Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe v. Wade. Still, as we saw from the leaked draft opinion, the court will likely strike down Roe v. Wade, effectively limiting a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Under the current law, the federal government cannot interfere with a women’s choice to end a pregnancy before 23 weeks, when a fetus could survive outside the mother’s womb. While we wait for this Supreme Court decision — arguably the most consequential abortion decision in decades — states are diving right in to restrict abortion rights statewide, with some states enacting the most restrictive abortion laws in decades.
Senate Bill 8 was passed in Texas in 2021, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, making it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after an ultrasound detects a fetal heartbeat.
This is problematic for so many reasons.
First of all, many women do not even know they are pregnant at six weeks, thus making it impossible (and illegal) to obtain a safe abortion once they do find out they are pregnant. This law also makes no exceptions for rape or incest and only makes an exception for medical emergencies.
In addition, several forms of pregnancy termination are treatments that are used in the case of early pregnancy loss, as well. Several medications and the procedure of removing pregnancy tissue are recommended in the case of a miscarriage to protect the health and safety of the mother.
“The challenge is that the treatment for an abortion and the treatment for a miscarriage are exactly the same,” Dr. Sarah Prager, an OBGYN professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and an expert in early pregnancy loss, explained to NPR. Intervening in early pregnancy loss is sometimes essential to prevent infection and protect the woman experiencing a miscarriage. Under Texas law, those procedures are also illegal.
The law also empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” a prohibited abortion. This means that if a woman in Texas does attempt to obtain an abortion, anyone who helps her get that medical procedure (a person who drives the woman to her doctor, medical workers, literally anyone involved in any way) could be sued for up to $10,000 plus legal fees for their efforts.
Texas is not alone in these extreme restrictions on abortion — many other states have followed suit, and even more are approving “trigger laws,” with bans on abortion that would go into effect immediately if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
These are some of the strictest, most extreme anti-abortion laws in over 70 years, since long before the Supreme Court protected abortion with Roe v. Wade. According to Elizabeth Nash, who follows state abortion policy for the Guttmacher Institute, 2021 was the worst year for abortion rights in 50 years, and 2022 is on track to match that or be worse. These current Texas laws (and Oklahoma, Florida, and Mississippi) are extreme and frightening for women’s rights. In total, abortion may be banned or heavily restricted in as many as 28 states in the coming months ahead, following the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“It really does hark back to the abortion bans you saw before Roe,” said Nash.
Human Rights at Risk With Anti-Trans Bills in Mississippi
It seems as if discriminating against trans people, and attacking trans youth in particular, is a trendy obsession among conservative lawmakers in states across the country, and Mississippi is no exception.
In Mississippi, a conservative legislator recently introduced “The Real You Act of 2022,” a bill that would ban trans people from changing their names and legally changing their gender. This is the first time politicians have actively tried to block transgender individuals from legally changing their names.
Up until now, the name change process that people used while transitioning was the same process that cisgender women used when they changed their name after getting married or divorced. But this bill is curtailing those rights for trans people, effectively harming trans youth by forcing them to graduate high school and apply for college using the name and gender that does not fit their identity.
This year, the Mississippi House also passed legislation that banned “incarcerated individuals from petitioning the court to legally change their name and bars individuals from updating their gender marker while serving their sentence.”
In addition, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed SB 2536, an anti-transgender sports bill, in 2021. This bill states that trans athletes in Mississippi public schools and colleges will not be allowed to compete in women’s sports, and only cisgender women born female will be allowed to compete in women’s sports.
While advocates of the bill argue that this shows Mississippi cisgender girls that “their rights are worth fighting for,” critics fear this anti-trans bill encourages discrimination and is an appalling attempt to limit the human rights of the trans community.
Like anti-trans bathroom bills, critics fear the repercussions of this bill could be far-reaching and damaging to the trans community.
“Just like it was never about restrooms, this bill is not about sports. It’s about pushing trans people out of public life,” Chase Strangio, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union for trans justice, told CNN.