It has been a banner year for anti-abortion groups, not so much for the other side who say they want to protect women’s choice to reproductive rights along with their health. Restrictive new anti-abortion laws have spread across state legislatures in the Midwest and South and 2021 will set a record for the most abortion restrictions signed in a twelve month period in the United States, say groups that track this type of legislation.
But no state even comes close to the new abortion law passed by the Texas State Legislature and signed into law September 1st. The law makes it a crime for a woman to receive this medical procedure after only six weeks, a period of time when most women may not yet even know they’re actually pregnant.
The new law also ushers in a never before seen provision allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers. If they win, those reporting abortions could stand to recover at least $10,000 for each abortion prohibited under the new law. Anyone---Uber or Lyft drivers, relatives, clergy or neighbors or anyone else who may have played tangential roles in assisting the woman may be sued. Who pays the money is yet to be determined.
It’s “bounty hunting,” said Adrienne Mansanares, Chief Experience Officer for Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain. Private citizens playing this role, she said, creates a “level of surveillance” allowing almost anyone to interfere in a very private, very personal decision. It creates an “emotional impact on our patients,” some of whom are coming from as far away as Texas for medical help. “The Texas ban is absurd.”
The Texas law also contains no provisions, said Mansanares, for exceptions for incest or rape, meaning even the youngest teen becoming pregnant by a rapist or relative would be forced to carry the pregnancy to full term. “It just shows how cruel and devasting this ban is in Texas.”
At the bill signing ceremony, Texas Governor Greg Abbot more wishfully than realistically waxed, “Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.”
Still, while PPRM plans for life after the Texas law, anti-abortion groups are celebrating. “You can only dream of these kinds of things,” University of Texas-San Antonio student and anti-abortion leader Melanie Salazar, told the New York Times. “To be young, to be an activist, this is definitely a celebratory time.”
The Texas law also potentially puts the future of Roe v. Wade, the constitutional right to abortion, in serious peril as the high court prepares for its October term.
The high court, now dominated by a 6-3 conservative majority, refused to block the law from going into effect and may have been sending a signal that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion, may soon be overturned.
In a move aimed at blunting---at least temporarily---the Texas law, the Department of Justice filed a petition for a temporary restraining order preventing the Texas from taking effect. The DOJ’s move comes only days after the Biden administration sued Texas over the abortion ban.
Attorney General Merrick Garland described it as unprecedented and designed “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review for as long as possible.”
Mansanares said abortion or reproductive rights opponents see this issue in the starkest of terms, a fundamental respect for the life of the unborn. To those who believe it’s a woman’s right to make this decision it’s also respect for life.
“It perpetuates poverty,” and especially impacts women of color, she said. “Women who have access are economically better off than those who have to carry to full term,” she said. Mansanares cites her own personal life as an example of how having a reproductive rights choice has played a critical role. “I think of families like my own,” she said. Planning a family made it possible for her “to (attend) college and invest in a career.” Mansanares is the mother of two children.
Mansanares also debunks another argument pro-life forces routinely offer when defending the curtailing of abortion rights, the third trimester abortion. “By the time a woman is that far along,” she said, “this is a wanted pregnancy.” Abortion is a choice made only when there is something horribly wrong with the baby, undeveloped brains or other serious malformations. But third trimester abortions, Mansanares added, are exceedingly rare.
Supreme Court watchers, including PPRM and others, are now tensely watching as the Court’s October session is set to begin. One of the most anticipated cases it will hear is a similarly controversial abortion law, this one from Mississippi. The Mississippi law bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, nearly two months earlier than Roe and other laws the Court has decided.
If the Mississippi law goes into effect, said Mansanares, it would likely open the door for as many as nine other states to enact similar legislation and leave as many as “twenty-five million women” without access to this procedure.
While reproductive rights are under siege in states across the country, Colorado appears to be a safe haven for women seeking these services. No bills curtailing rights in this arena have been introduced in the Colorado legislature. Colorado legalized abortion rights in 1967, a full seven years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
“We have so many supporters,” said Mansanares, whose own family is divided on the issue. A number of supporters, she said, are from Texas. The PPRM official also said that since the Texas law was signed there have also been scores of calls from Texas women inquiring about care in Colorado.