Finally, the dystopian scenario we women have been warning about for years appears to be materializing. A new law in Texas makes a woman’s right to choose over her own body illegal.
The Texas abortion law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy (that’s less than two months), went into effect Wednesday, despite a 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to the procedure, the New York Times explained.
The Supreme Court denied the abortion providers’ emergency appeal in a 5-4 decision.
This new law makes Texas the most restrictive state in the nation regarding access to abortion services.
To make matters worse, because of the way the law was written, it may be nearly impossible to challenge in court, representing a new era in the battle for abortion rights and one that other conservative jurisdictions could imitate.
“These laws are unconstitutional, as we have understood Supreme Court rulings until now, and courts have quickly issued preliminary injunctions blocking enforcement,” said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, to the Times.
What does the new law stipulate?
The new Texas abortion law prohibits abortions once the cardiac activity is detected in the embryo. This usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy, which is before two months. This is so early, it does not give women time to notice the pregnancy, the absence of a period, or any other symptoms that might hint at it.
In fact, the lack of menstruation starts to become noticeable as early as the fourth week, and hormonal imbalances often cause menstrual periods to be up to a week late.
In the best-case scenario, if a woman immediately notices a missed period and takes a pregnancy test, she would have only two weeks to recognize her status, confirm the pregnancy, make a decision and, if necessary, obtain an abortion.
“It is extremely possible and very common for people to get to the six-week mark and not know they are pregnant,” said Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, lead for equity transformation at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, to the New York Times.
The cardiac activity detected on ultrasound is not a true heartbeat, Dr. Villavicencio added. It results from electrical activity, but the valves of the heart have not yet formed. And the sound does not indicate the pregnancy is viable, she said.
“Forcing them to find out about a pregnancy and make a decision about how to manage it in a short period of time is antithetical to ethical care,” Dr. Villavicencio said.
What are the legal consequences?
Texas’ near-total ban on abortion allows any citizen to sue an abortion provider who violates the law, which could lead to harassment of the state’s clinics by anti-abortion organizations.
“Abortion access will be thrown into absolute chaos,” says Amanda Williams, executive director of the abortion support group the Lilith Fund, a plaintiff in the suit that challenged the law. “Unfortunately, many people who need access the most will slip through the cracks, as we have seen over the years with the relentless attacks here in our state.
“It is unbelievable that Texas politicians have gotten away with this devastating and cruel law that will harm so many.”
The law “immediately and catastrophically reduces abortion access in Texas,” say state abortion providers, and will probably force many abortion clinics to ultimately close. It will prevent many Texas women (85%) from accessing abortion care, as most aren’t aware they are pregnant as early as six weeks, The Guardian explained.
Planned Parenthood, which operates 11 clinics in the state, and Whole Woman’s Health clinics told The Guardian they would comply with the extreme law despite their medical best practices. In the days leading up to the law’s enactment, Texas clinics say they have been forced to turn away patients needing abortion care at the law’s cutoff point this week and in the near future.
Yet another blow to women’s equality and freedoms
As The Guardian continues, the law will force most patients to travel out of state for care, increasing the driving distance to an abortion clinic twenty-fold: from an average of 12 miles to 248 miles one way, nearly 500 miles round trip, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And that’s only if patients have the resources to do so, including time off work, the ability to pay for the procedure, and, in some cases, child care.
Abortion providers warn that many women seeking an abortion will delay until later in the pregnancy. Others will be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or attempt to terminate it without medical supervision. As with most abortion restrictions, the new law will most affect low-income women and women of color.