The Texas abortion ban, SB 8, bans abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. This new law bars medical practitioners from performing abortions if there is a detectable heartbeat. It also includes a provision to bring civil lawsuits against people seeking abortion and additional liability for anyone who knowingly aids the person in getting the procedure, with a reward of up to $10,000 for the citizen plaintiff. They’re calling this the “Heartbeat Bill,” in the spirit of being pro-life...except for the fact that the bill puts people’s lives at risk and doesn’t end abortions at all.
We’ve all heard of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case which “affirmed that access to a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.” An important tenet of Roe v. Wade is the access to a SAFE abortion, as justices acknowledged the danger of illegal abortions—seeing as by 1965 illegal abortions made up one-sixth of all pregnancy related deaths. In contrast, under Roe v. Wade abortions have become one of the safest medical procedures with a 99% safety record. Scholars have estimated that before Roe v. Wade between 20-25% of all pregnancies ended in abortion, demonstrating that abortions always have and will continue to happen. Therefore, it is clear that bans on abortions do not decrease their rates, but instead puts those who can get pregnant at greater risk of fatality or injury by blocking life-saving healthcare.
SB 8 does not end abortions; it only ends safe abortions for poor Texans. The wealthy always have and always will have access to the best medical care available, leaving poor and disadvantaged people in the dust. In 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott temporarily banned abortions under the context of pausing elective procedures due to Covid-19. During this time, people were forced to go out of state for abortions, and Houston Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Bhavik Kumar recalls the clients seeking follow up care being mostly high income white folks. The ability to travel for abortion care is a privilege only the wealthy were able to access, leaving low income people scrambling to get care as soon as the temporary ban had passed. Abortion is healthcare and therefore people will always seek the procedure, even under criminalization as people did last year.
Not even two weeks since SB 8 went into effect, we are already seeing clinics in surrounding states fill up with abortion patients. The ability to do this is inevitably following the pattern we saw last year, with wealthy white folks being the primary demographic of those able to spontaneously leave the state for medical care. Of the people able to get pregnant in Texas, immigrants are in one of the most difficult positions to get abortions. Many are unable to leave border cities due to federal immigration checkpoints, much less call a doctor due to the pre-existing barriers to healthcare. Black patients also accounted for ~30% of abortions in Texas in 2020, a group that already faces a disproportionately high maternal mortality rate. Abortion bans, which historically lead to higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths, further exacerbate existing racial inequalities in the healthcare system.
According to a Guttmacher study done in 2014, half of all abortions patients in the US were living below the federal poverty line, and another 26% were low income. These statistics show that people seeking abortions are disproportionately low-income, hence the SB 8 primarily impacting this demographic. With low-income people who become pregnant—many of them being teenagers and young adults—unable to get abortions and flee the state as wealthier Texans do, a financial burden is created, influencing access to education and employment. As low-income Texans continue to be the primary seekers of abortion, the ban perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty, hindering families’ ability to go to school, hold a job, become a home owner, and effectively build generational wealth. These consequences force people to remain in poverty and widen wealth inequality.
All the facts and figures listed above point to the benefits of upholding Roe v. Wade. Yet, overturning it is beneficial to the Texas GOP. SB 8 maintains traditional Texan Christian values, while simultaneously finding a way to further deprive low income and communities of color from “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by blocking medical care and worsening poverty rates. Better yet, Republican politicians (cough...Donald Trump?) can still access abortion in other states if it is suitable to their situation, making SB 8 all the more hypocritical (not to mention the criminalization of mask mandates). Social welfare services such as accessible sex education, contraceptives, universal childcare, paid maternity and paternity leave, etc. have been proven to lower abortion rates, so if decreasing abortion rates is the goal of SB 8, why would these policies not be enacted? Is it because keeping people in poverty and communities of color disenfranchised while effectively killing them by preventing life-saving medical care maintains the Texas Republican stronghold? Possibly.
Luckily there is hope, since the Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas for the unconstitutionality of the ban by defying long-standing Supreme Court precedent. This is a rapidly developing story, but all people, whether you have a uterus or not, should be paying attention. If this makes you as angry as I am and would like to contribute to the cause, here is a link to chip in for Texas abortion funds, distributing donations between ten organizations helping Texans obtain abortion care.