On Wednesday, September 1, SB8 is set to go into effect in Texas. This law, Senate Bill 8, is designed to exploit obscure legal loopholes to flagrantly fly in the face of the constitutional right to privacy in reproductive health care that was solidified by the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. The law puts a bounty on anyone who aids or abets a patient’s abortion, dangling a potential $10,000 reward for each abortion successfully prosecuted.
Proponents of SB8 like to refer to it as the “Texas Heartbeat Act” but let’s clear one thing up right away: A six-week-old human embryo has no heart. It has faint cardiac activity in the area where the heart will eventually develop, and only in the last few decades have improvements in ultrasound technology allowed us to detect this activity.
This law is a heinous new low for anti-abortion extremists. Dubbed the “sue thy neighbor” law by supporters of reproductive rights and freedom, SB8 encourages citizen vigilantes to intrude on the most personal health care choice of whether to carry a pregnancy or not. There are no exemptions for rape and incest in the law. People who have miscarriages could face lawsuits accusing them of abortion. And the end goal of the law is to intimidate providers with the threat of a constant deluge of frivolous private lawsuits, and isolate people seeking abortions so that they have no support for decisions other than keeping their pregnancy.
People have sought out ways to terminate pregnancies for as long as there have been human records – sharing information about abortifacient herbs, suggesting physical activities that can induce miscarriage, seeking out those who have experience or knowledge about ending pregnancies. And historically, the reasons for seeking to terminate a pregnancy have remained fairly consistent: Lack of adequate resources needed to grow a family, abusive partners, sexual assault, contraceptive failure, mental and/or physical health concerns, etc. These reasons and more are all valid reasons for terminating a pregnancy, and they are not going anywhere.
If people really want to work to prevent abortions, there are some concrete steps we could take. We could end the stigma of “don’t have kids you can’t afford” and provide real, meaningful support to all parents, including addressing benefit cliffs. We could invest in comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality education for our youth nationwide. We could make contraception widely available for everyone, no questions asked.
But here’s a really radical idea: We could trust people to make the decisions that are right for their individual circumstances, without judgement. At the end of the day, we need to trust patients to make their own decisions about their pregnancy. Abortion isn’t contagious; it’s nothing that we need to protect each other from. It’s nothing that can be unknowingly passed from the person having the abortion to a stranger. (And yes, this language is directed squarely at those who seek to co-opt the language of reproductive freedom and use it to exempt themselves from their civic responsibility during the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.) People who have abortions deserve our love and support, not our judgement.
Here in Maine we may feel that we are removed from the onslaught of legislation that seeks to undermine our constitutional right to privacy in our reproductive health care choices, but that is not true. Just this last legislative session we fought back against a half dozen bills that sought to eliminate insurance coverage for abortion care, demand burial or cremation of fetal remains (including miscarriage remains), and mandate unnecessary ultrasounds and waiting periods for those seeking an abortion.
An estimated one in four women will have an abortion in their reproductive years. It’s time for us to stop thinking of abortion as someone else’s issue and start caring for people who need to terminate a pregnancy. We shouldn’t need people to share their most intimate stories in order to understand that this is a personal decision best left between a patient and a provider. If you’ve been standing on the sidelines, now is the time to step up to the plate. We cannot go back to the days when patients died or were permanently disabled due to unsafe abortions. Speak out for abortion, speak out for people who have abortions, and speak out for the brave providers who offer this important care in the face of danger. We need you in this work with us. Don’t let noxious laws like SB8 spread. Stand with us now, loud and proud, before it’s too late.