Commentary: Texas anti-abortion law brings ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ closer to reality

By Elyse Reznick
Posted 9/14/21

As of last week, abortion in the nation’s second-most-populous state is effectively banned, thanks to a cruel and overreaching law. Texas now allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps …

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Commentary: Texas anti-abortion law brings ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ closer to reality

Posted

As of last week, abortion in the nation’s second-most-populous state is effectively banned, thanks to a cruel and overreaching law. Texas now allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps another person obtain an abortion in the state after just six weeks of pregnancy. And it’s not just doctors who perform abortions who are liable — even driving someone to a clinic or giving them money to cover the cost could open you up to a lawsuit under this draconian policy.

The Texas Heartbeat Act authorizes an individual to sue for $10,000, regardless of whether they have any type of relationship with the patient. Yes, it basically transfers enforcement power from the government to average citizens.

Put slightly differently, the statute creates a bounty program, encouraging citizens to report their neighbors. It’s incredibly easy to imagine how this could be misused by unscrupulous individuals who might rat out or blackmail Texans against whom they have a vendetta. After all, the “vigilantes” this law creates would have their costs and attorney’s fees covered if they win their case.

Will providers be reimbursed in some capacity if their defense is successful? Of course not!

If you see parallels to other classic authoritarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, you’re not alone.

This statute will create a culture of fear and turn neighbor against neighbor. Again, the comparisons to secret-police states, where residents must be wary of every word they say, never knowing who might turn them in, are obvious.

The law is blatant in its disregard for individual rights and the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Not only does it ban abortion early in the first trimester, before many people even know they are pregnant, it enables lawsuits to be brought in any county in Texas. Thus, an abortion provider might have to travel hundreds of miles to a courthouse in another part of the state that is more likely to rule in favor of the claimant.

The most outrageous part of this provision is that it contains no exception for rape. Would you want your daughter, sister, mother, or wife to have to carry her rapist’s baby to term? Is that really justice?

It has been noted this “could draw a road map for states and localities looking to dismantle constitutional rights with impunity” and thus should be opposed even by anti-abortion activists. While conservatives may celebrate the Supreme Court voting 5-4 not to block the law, perhaps they should consider how they’ll feel if a deep-blue state attempts to use this precedent to enforce, say, gun control.

Ironically, many of the same people bashing the White House for abandoning the women of Afghanistan to the Taliban and its extreme religious fundamentalism are cheering this abortion ban.

The Texas law especially impacts the poor, who are disproportionately people of color. While a well-off woman might be able to easily travel to a more friendly state to obtain an abortion, those of little means face a much more difficult path to safely and legally ending a pregnancy.

The law may reduce the number of abortions, but it certainly won’t eliminate the practice entirely: More women will instead turn to dangerous back-alley procedures or opt to use medication available online to terminate their pregnancies themselves.

According to a 2012 report from the World Health Organization, about 22 million unsafe abortions take place every year, resulting in the deaths of approximately 47,000 women and causing disabilities for 5 million more. Those figures will surely climb as a result of this measure that purports to protect life.

Needless to say, the law doesn’t come with extra welfare benefits for the Texans struggling just to get by who will have to worry about another mouth to feed. Once again, the cruelty is the point.

Perhaps Texas Gov. Greg Abbott should worry less about what women do with their own bodies and more about COVID-19. Unvaccinated individuals in nearly every county in Texas are at very or extremely high risk for coronavirus, while the number of hospitalizations in the Lone Star State has grown almost sevenfold over the past two months. The state has gone from just four new COVID-19-related deaths July 11 to 336 on Sept. 2 — an increase of 8,300% in 53 days.

Media outlets have reported several instances of unborn babies in Texas dying after their unvaccinated mothers contracted COVID-19, something the supposed pro-life contingent doesn’t seem too concerned about.

According to a 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, states with more abortion restrictions have greater rates of maternal, infant and child deaths. Imagine what could be done if politicians devoted their energy to solving actual problems.

Thanks to the hard work of organizations liked Planned Parenthood and the many advocates who helped Delaware codify abortion rights over the past four-plus years, our state may not find itself in this position — yet. Texas is a warning: Those of us who care about fundamental rights and bodily autonomy are all that stand between the Republican Party and a final deathblow for Roe v. Wade nationwide.

Elyse Reznick is board chair for Planned Parenthood of Delaware.