Editorials, Opinion

How does Texas’ anti-abortion law actually work?

If you’ve consulted any medium of news recently, you’ve likely heard about Texas’ new abortion ban, SB 8, and the Supreme Court’s decision not to stop it from taking effect.

SB 8  bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound (usually about six weeks) without actually making it illegal, per se, which is how the law has avoided being struck down by courts so far. Instead of instituting a criminal penalty for anyone getting or assisting with an abortion, it allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion for damages up to $10,000. The person seeking to end the pregnancy cannot be sued themselves — but anyone and everyone who helps them can be.

Essentially, the new Texas law cuts abortion-seekers off from the resources they need to have the procedure, and it’s not just the medical facilities and staff that are in danger of legal action. Sought spiritual guidance about whether or not abortion was right for you? They can be sued. Confided in someone that you were considering an abortion? They can be sued. Took a taxi to the clinic where the abortion was performed? They can be sued.

Anyone can bring the lawsuit. In fact, Texas Right to Life built a website for people to drop tips about so much as a suspicion of abortion, and the organization has lawyers on standby, ready to follow up with a lawsuit.

There are a few things to note about this law: According to the study “Trends in Timing of Pregnancy Awareness Among U.S. Women,” published in 2018, 23% of women studied didn’t know they were pregnant until after seven weeks; younger women and cases of unintended pregnancy were more likely to result in “late awareness” (at or after seven weeks), which is around the time morning sickness usually kicks in. For further context, at-home tests don’t usually detect pregnancy until around five or six weeks.

Texas’ law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. It also does not make exceptions for minors. According to Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, exceptions for health reasons are “very narrow” and don’t cover all instances in which the mother’s life would be threatened.

Why should we care about SB 8? Because some variation of it will likely appear in West Virginia in the near future, given our conservative Legislature — unless the higher courts do something to block it before then. And because of the civil penalties brought by private citizens — rather than criminal penalties brought by the government — the law is extremely hard to challenge.

To borrow and paraphrase a now oft-circulated quote from the internet: Funny how conservatives insist the government can’t force a 12-year-old to wear a mask in school during a global public health crisis, but it can force a 12-year-old to carry a child to term.