On May 19, Governor Abbott signed a bill that makes abortion after six weeks of pregnancy illegal in the state of Texas. This measure makes Texas the state with the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation.
In general, most pregnancies aren’t detected by the six-week mark, meaning that this law, also known as the “heartbeat bill,” is effectively a complete ban on abortion. The bill doesn’t allow for the termination of pregnancies as a result of rape or incest, or severe or lethal fetal abnormalities.
The new law puts a lot of pressure on medical personnel and abortion clinics who can now be sued, fined, and even imprisoned if they perform an abortion after six weeks. The penalties are draconian and include fines of $100,000 or life in prison for doctors.
Governor Abbott signed the bill proclaiming, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives.” Of course, banning abortion doesn’t save any lives — it further endangers them. Expectant parents who can’t access quality care are forced to turn to unsafe under-the-table methods instead.
This law is part of a general rightward trend in Texas politics. New laws passed in the past few weeks of the legislative session include allowing anyone over the age of 21 to carry a handgun without a permit, further restrictions on voting, and penalties against municipalities trying to defund the police.
Texas’s new abortion law is especially indicative of the state of abortion rights across the United States. In the past few years, states including Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee have passed increasingly restrictive abortion laws with the intention of escalating the matter to the Supreme Court. While so far federal courts have thrown out all such restrictive legislation, this strategy seems to have paid off for anti-abortion forces: with a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court and a pro-life lawsuit heading to the Court, it becomes ever more likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the coming months.
While liberal organizations like the ACLU and Democratic lawmakers bemoan this new law and have expressed shock and an intention to challenge it in court, the very passage of the law tells us everything we need to know: bourgeois lawmakers have no interest in the lives of the people they represent. The politicians don’t represent us and the courts don’t protect us. Only the people can band together and rise up to defend ourselves and the right to reproductive health and freedom.
Left Voice interviewed Amanda Beatriz Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, an organization fighting for reproductive equity across Texas. Williams took the time to share her experiences and perspectives of the abortion bill. The interview has been edited for clarity.
How long have you worked in the reproductive rights space and how has it changed over time?
I’ve been involved in the reproductive health, rights, and justice space for over ten years. I’ve seen the movement grow stronger and bolder.
What do you think are the consequences and repercussions of the heartbeat bill? What should readers around the country know about how this will affect people in Texas? Who will be most affected and hurt?
Senate Bill 8 bans abortions when cardiac activity is detectable in an embryo, which typically is around six weeks gestation. This is before many people even know they’re pregnant. For those with regular menstruation cycles, this bill would ban abortion only two weeks after a missed period. SB 8 could take away Texans’ right to make their own medical decisions before they even know they have a decision to make.
The bill creates a private cause of action that allows anti-abortion extremists (including non-Texas residents who have no connection to the person having an abortion) to use frivolous lawsuits to harass anyone who assists Texans in accessing abortion care after six weeks — including an abortion provider, an abortion fund, or a family member or friend of the patient. The bill also prevents defendants who are sued under this provision from recouping attorneys’ fees and costs under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, even if they win their lawsuits and are shown not to have violated the law. The venue provisions of the bill allow a person to be sued wherever the plaintiff is, even if the defendant has no connection to that county.
Millions of Texans will hear that abortion has been banned, and they’ll be more confused about their right to access abortion care than they were before. Many will think they simply cannot get an abortion, whether that’s true or not.
Restrictions on abortion in Texas make it difficult for patients to see a doctor as soon as they would like. Upon scheduling, patients must navigate numerous existing restrictions, including a 24-hour forced delay and mandatory sonogram. This six-week restriction will be especially harmful for Texans in rural areas who have to travel extensively to get care, low-income people, and people of color.
What is important to share with the public about this specific moment?
Abortion is still legal! A six-week ban on abortion is clearly unconstitutional and is in direct conflict with the 45 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence since Roe v. Wade that has continuously and systematically upheld the right to abortion care pre-viability. Even though many other states across the nation have tried, no six-week ban on abortion has actually been enacted because it is unconstitutional. We expect a lawsuit to challenge the Texas six-week ban.
Not only does this bill ban abortion before most people even know they’re pregnant, it would allow anti-abortion extremists to harass and sue abortion funds — our staff, our volunteers, our donors — simply for supporting our fellow Texans.
Abortion funds show up for our communities when our elected officials fail us, and the Legislature can’t shut us down or stop us from supporting Texans seeking abortion care. We’re not going anywhere.
People around the world are being denied access to abortion and it seems possible that the entire U.S. will see restrictions soon. What is your vision for what just and equitable access to healthcare could look like?
At Lilith Fund, we dream of a reality where everyone has the agency, power, and resources to thrive in their communities. We envision a world where the full range of reproductive decisions are affirmed and accessible, people have the dignity of thriving wages, and we can all build and care for our families free from state-sanctioned violence or separation. In this world, all people have access to comprehensive healthcare — including abortion — and the opportunity to have a fulfilling sex life without shame or stigma.