Contributing Writer Audrey Harkaway, ’23
On May 19, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, signed Senate Bill 8 into law which prevented about 85% of women in Texas from getting abortion care, because it prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Fetal heart activity is detected far before most people realize they are pregnant. The cardiac activity in the fetus is detected by ultrasound at 5-6 weeks gestation before the heart is even fully developed (at 9-10 weeks). SB8 is the most strict abortion law ever to have been passed in the United States. The law disregards more than just human rights. It is a matter of affordability, accessibility, mental and physical health of women, and the unintended consequences of prohibiting abortion.
Accessibility and affordability are rising issues for women seeking to get an abortion. There is discrimination against those with low income, and more significantly, women of color. Without the proper money to leave the state for an abortion, many women put themselves at risk by having an illegal procedure or carrying out the pregnancy with no means of taking care of it. Traveling out of state is becoming increasingly hard further south as more states take Texas’s lead. Many women, especially those of low income, have to find time off work, possibly childcare while gone, and the funds to provide for the long trip out of Texas. The law will force patients to increase their travel to a clinic from 12 miles to 248 miles one way— nearly 500 miles round trip. The toll is not just on the woman but on her whole family.
The state legislature snuck around the constitutional right for a woman to terminate a pregnancy — the result of the court case Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade, 1973, resulted in the right to protect pregnant women’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive governmental restrictions. Abortion became legal nationwide and granted women the right to privacy through the 14th amendment. Furthermore, SB8 is turning citizens — neighbors and friends — against each other. The law makes it so those who aid or abet those trying to get an abortion can be sued by private law firms, weaving its way through the federal law. Those that get an abortion are at severe risk of being sued. Physicians workers, clinic nurses, abortion fund workers, domestic violence and rape counselors, and even a family member who offers a car ride home could face lawsuits from neighbors or people they do not even know. Texas promises $10,000 for people who enforce the new state’s limit on abortions, putting money over women’s rights.
The effect on a woman’s mental and physical health has not crossed the mind of the men making choices for women. The law has medical exceptions, but no exceptions for rape or incest. A woman who is raped would have to live every day raising a child that she had no consent to conceive. Governor Abbott views abortion as murder. I can see where his view can be supported, acknowledging that abortion is a loss of possible life. However, a fetus can’t survive on its own as it is fully dependent on its mother’s body. The “right to life” doesn’t imply a right to threaten someone else’s life. Bearing children is a threat to the life of the mother. A “right to life” is the right to not have someone else impose regulations upon your body. Do women not have the right to life? A woman’s usual cycle is 28 days or four weeks. Some women have irregular or longer cycles up to about 35 days, or five weeks. The process for a woman to first notice she is late, then get a pregnancy test and take that pregnancy test, can take six weeks if not more. This gives the woman no time to decide what the best option is for her. Does she have enough time and resources to help take care of a baby? Is she mentally stable? Is she physically able to have a baby? A woman at this point who decided she can not have the baby has to travel out of the state, but only if she has abilities to do so, to get an abortion. If she does not have the money or resources to leave the state, she may resort to getting a, now illegal, abortion in the state. Without the proper legal factor, she is at risk of a dangerous procedure and the high possibility of being sued.
There are unintended consequences of this inhuman ban on abortions in Texas. A July 2020 study in The Lancet found abortion rates had actually increased by 12% from the 1990s-2010s in countries where abortion procedures are restricted. While in countries where it is legal, however, the rate declined significantly. As the ban on abortions increases, the use of contraceptives decreases, leading to more pregnancies and more abortions. The states most impacted by anti-abortion laws saw a rise in abortion rates, many of them unsafe. The irony of the anti-abortion movement is that opposition to abortion is often tied to the opposition to contraception. Many people with this view are against sex for pleasure. But, let’s face it. According to the CDC, over half of U.S. teens have sexual intercourse by age 18. Despite the false impression that contraception increases the number of abortions, more contraception would result in fewer pregnancies and a lesser need for abortions. A 2012 study of over 9,000 women found that when women received free birth control, the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions fell between 62 and 78 percent.
A woman’s choices for her body are not up for debate. The Texas abortion law, made by a man, is unjust, unethical, and inhuman. It is unfair to those with low income who can not make the accommodations to travel out of state. It is unconstitutional and has weaseled around everything that Roe v. Wade stands for. The mental and physical health of a grown woman is less important to the Texas legislature than the life of an undeveloped human. The new bill has unintended consequences that will cause the anti-abortion movement to unravel while more and more women speak up for their freedom of choice.