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Highway S.B. 8: Texas' Roadmap to Eviscerating Women's Autonomy

Last May, Republican Greg Abbott signed the draconian Texas law, the Heartbeat Act. The Supreme Court had the opportunity to protect women's reproductive rights, and they instead chose to further dismantle the health and safety of women nationwide. Thus, Senate Bill 8 went into effect in September 2021.

Under S.B. 8, after an ultrasound detects heart activity, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, abortion is illegal and enforced by private individuals through civil lawsuits, with a minimum fine of $10,000 and a $10,000 reward for successful lawsuits. This is despite the fact that many pregnancies go undetected in the early stages by many women and are only detected at or after the time it would be illegal to have an abortion. The people receiving or administering [e.g., doctors, nurses] an abortion are not the only parties that fall under this provision; everyone who "aids or abets" treatment does as well, such as rape crisis counselors to friends who transport patients.

This relatively new hurdle is one of the many bureaucratic and financial roadblocks that have helped cement Texas's reputation as not just one of the most difficult states in which to seek an abortion, but also one of the riskiest in which to carry a child to term. Even with being the country’s second most populous state, Texas is among the top 10 states with the highest maternal mortality rate. In 2020, before this bill was signed and went into effect, Texas lost 23.8 of every 100,000 women giving birth, as of 2022 has increased to roughly 35.

S.B. 8 has had a devastating impact on the lives of Texan women, but it is important to see it in context: the bill was born out of a political climate that was determined to destroy reproductive health services in the state. Prior to the passing of S.B. 8, Texas abortion providers and advocates for reproductive choice long anticipated this moment and attempted to forewarn anybody who would listen. And as we’ve seen in the months following the passing of S.B. 8, their warning not only went unheard but the consequences got even worse.

Patients immediately reached out to clinics asking whether or not they could even ask about abortion services, and in the most serious cases, birthing people found themselves without medical support and services when they needed them most. Further complicating matters, the law makes no allowance for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, which can lead to heartbreaking circumstances for patients whose lives have already been upended by tragedy. Medical providers are "extremely and understandably fearful" of conducting abortions even in medical crises.

Texas politicians have spent years severely restricting access to preventative health care, rather than tackling maternal mortality. The poor, the rural, the undocumented, and women of color in Texas, who face the greatest obstacles to obtaining health care, as it is, are the ones who suffer the most from the state's restrictive reproductive health regulations. Anti-abortion advocates suggest that the issue is solely about the procedure and not the impending health consequences, economic challenges, mental health concerns, or overall social inequities.

Social inequities persist because of the varying inequitable systems, policies, and infrastructure in place that support limitations/barriers for specific groups to educational attainment opportunities, and professional advances, all the while ensuring economical, health, and other burdens to include abortion bans. Considering this, S.B. 8 is simply another method to further stratify communities through the maintenance of poverty, racism, and the criminalization of women’s bodies.

With a $10,000 reward for successfully suing someone for having or attempting to have an abortion or for administering an abortion, it is no wonder Texas continues to enact laws that make it impossible to have an abortion, even if it is life-threatening, a result of rape or incest, or unwanted.

As we sit post-Roe, it is quite frustrating and jarring to see that a state, which is characterized as being led by right-wing fringe politicians, created the roadmap that quickly demolished a woman’s right to choose. If this tells us anything, it is that the tendency to dismiss Texas politics has a high cost nationwide.

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