Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has just signed a new bill into law, and it's looking grim for women's reproductive rights. Despite a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that blocked the state from enacting any law that puts "undue burden" on a woman's health, Abbott signed the aggressive anti-choice bill into law on Tuesday. While the bill will likely be challenged in court due to its questionable legality, Texas' S.B. 8 bill could affect pregnant women in the state.
The bill would require various anti-abortion regulations to be followed once it comes into effect in September. As of that time, women who have abortions will be required to have a burial for fetal remains. Further, abortion providers will not be allowed to offer patients a D&E (dilation and evacuation) procedure, despite the fact that this has been a commonly used practice during second trimester abortions. If an abortion provider is found to be offering this procedure, they could face jail time. Inexplicably, S.B. 8 also makes "partial-birth abortions," the anti-choice term for a late-term abortion, illegal, despite the fact that such a procedure is already illegal under federal law, according to The Daily Dot. A "partial-birth abortion" is a non-medical term rooted in the anti-choice movement, based on discredited videos of abortion providers at Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue to medical facilities (in the way that is required by law), according to The Texas Observer.
So what does this bill mean for pregnant women living in Texas? It effectively takes several reproductive choices out of their hands by restricting their access to care. Once passed, S.B. 8 could see anyone who aids a woman in getting a second-term, D&E abortion in the state of Texas (whether they are providing abortion services or simply offering a ride) landing in jail. Texas Rep. Joe Moody attempted to add an amendment to the bill, asking the legislature to consider the "unintended consequence of the law."
The "unintended consequences," if they can truly be considered unintended, could see rape victims having to suffer through burying fetal remains. It could see abortion clinics closed down and a significantly reduced access to women's health care in Texas, which already has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country, according to Self. A fact which the Texas lawmakers seem happy to turn their backs on while attempting to enforce unreasonable anti-abortion laws.
Moody, a criminal law expert, feared that the sweeping language of S.B. 8 concerning the "unlawful procurement of an abortion" could hold third parties responsible for others' actions, as in the case of a friend driving someone to a clinic. Moody wanted to protect these people by adding language that would exempt them from responsibility, according to Mic.
Unfortunately, Rep. Moody was unable to have the amendment included.
If abortion providers are banned from offering D&E procedures to women seeking late term abortions, these women could be forced to either pay out of pocket for an abortion out of state (since most insurance providers do not cover out of state abortions) or suffer through one of two risky and expensive procedures. Pregnant women can either go through labor and deliver the fetus, or go under the knife for an operation akin to a hysterectomy. Bhavik Kumar, the Texas medical director for abortion provider Whole Women's Health, told The San Antonio Current:
The complication rates associated with the alternatives are much, much higher.
Kumar also told the news outlet he was concerned that pregnant women in the state would "take abortions into their own hands" under S.B. 8.
This new bill will also mean additional costs of an imposed burial of fetal remains, from abortions as well as miscarriages, not to mention the psychological struggle some women might experience as a result. Abortion providers are expected to incur the prohibitive costs, which could see many women's health care providers shuttering their doors for financial reasons. Many women in the state are already forced to drive hours out of their way for an abortion, ever since Texas legislature attempted to pass a similar anti-abortion bill in 2013, forcing 21 clinics to close.
The restrictive new bill allows for D&E in medical emergencies, which somehow do not include cases of rape and incest.
Even some supporters of this bill have reportedly acknowledged these anti-abortion regulations have nothing to do with women's health. As Texas Rep. Chris Turner pointed out to The Texas Observer:
This legislature has a history of passing bills that have been struck by the courts because they’re unconstitutional. This is not based on any science or fact, and [anti-abortion advocates] know that. They’re trying to say what happened in the Supreme Court doesn’t apply to us in Texas.
The Supreme Court ruled against House Bill 2 from 2013 in Texas, finding that the state could not legally add restrictions to women's access to reproductive health without any evidence.
This new bill will most certainly be challenged in the courts. But in the meantime, pregnant women in Texas have a terrible battle on their hands if they want to make decisions about their own bodies as of September.