The Abortion Rights Fight Just Got Bigger in Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that provides a mechanism for anyone to sue any individual who assists someone else in getting an abortion.

Photo of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott talking behind a desk
Abortion bans like the one Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in Texas aren’t about the sanctity of life. They're about the sanctity of elite, white male power. Lynda M. Gonzalez/Getty Images

Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to ban abortion in Texas again.

Just weeks ago, he signed a bill into law that would outlaw the procedure in the state as soon as a so-called heartbeat (aka electrical activity in embryonic cells) is detected—at around six weeks’ gestation. That’s too early for many people to even know they’re pregnant. Of course, that’s exactly the point.

That bill, SB 8, made news for how arcane it is. Last week, a Texas high school valedictorian named Paxton Smith went viral for delivering a graduation speech criticizing the ban. She bravely veered off course from her preapproved remarks, saying, “In light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state.”

There’s a reason the Texas law has received so much attention. Not only does SB 8 ban abortion obscenely and unconstitutionally early, but it also provides a mechanism for anyone—even people out of state—to sue any individual who assists someone else in getting abortion. That could be a spouse, a doctor, even a friend who drives you to the clinic.

Unfortunately, the Lone Star State isn’t alone in enacting awful measures like this. Twelve other states have already passed so-called “heartbeat” bills that aim to do the same thing: outlaw abortion before most people can reasonably know they’re pregnant. Or, more simply, outlaw abortion—period.

As of now, all of these bills are held up in court, with lawsuit after lawsuit challenging their constitutionality. But that all might change, now that the Supreme Court has a conservative majority that includes three justices appointed by Donald Trump, who pledged to exclusively appoint judges committed to overturning Roe v. Wade.

If that happens—and with the Court agreeing to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, it very well might—the consequences would be devastating.

The medical reasons are obvious. In Texas, where I live, the law would limit reproductive choice in a state that already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.

To top it all off, abortion bans like the one Texas just passed don’t even lower abortion rates (not that lowering abortion rates is a worthwhile goal). They just force pregnant people to take matters into their own hands—and while self-managed abortion is safe, some will inevitably receive unsafe abortions and many will be criminalized and prosecuted.

Of course, that’s only for those without resources. After all, abortion—especially when outlawed—has always been tied economics.

It’s a two-way street. Just as someone’s socioeconomic status can determine their access to abortion, their access to abortion can determine their socioeconomic status.

Last year, a landmark study found that women who are denied abortions experience a “large and persistent increase in financial stress … that is sustained for several years,” with debt increasing by 78 percent and negative public records like bankruptcies and evictions increasing by 81 percent. Another study found that being denied an abortion and instead forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term “quadrupled the odds that a new mother and her child would live below the federal poverty line,” according to Reuters Health.

Republicans like Greg Abbott know this. That they ram through unconstitutional, unconscionable restrictions on a pregnant person’s right to choose when and how to have a family anyway is proof that they don’t care. They don’t care about “babies” or “motherhood”—they routinely oppose expanded child tax credits, universal child care, food assistance, public school investments, or any other measure that would actually help mothers and babies.

What they actually care about is controlling women and anyone who can become pregnant. Their restrictions on our freedom aren’t rooted in science or medicine; they’re rooted in a calculated attempt at changing the laws that a majority of Americans support. This isn’t about the sanctity of life. It’s about the sanctity of elite, white male power.

Our bodies are the battleground on which Republicans are waging their war. We can’t let them win. That’s why Women’s March has been hosting trainings—organizing, marching, and rallying around this critical cause. Here, that includes a digital video campaign targeting Latina Texans, because women of color are disproportionately impacted by this fight, and it’s critical that we center them in our work.

If we learn one thing from this escalating attack on reproductive freedom, it’s this: The fight for reproductive rights isn’t over just because Trump is out of office. A Republican minority dedicated to upending our rights and lives has cemented its place in the judicial branch indefinitely—at the Supreme Court, with Trump’s three anti-Roe appointees, and on circuit and appeals courts across the country, where 1 in 4 federal judges have been appointed by the former president.

These overwhelmingly white and male anti-choice judges have lifetime appointments and the power to enshrine Republicans’ unpopular, anti-woman agenda into law—and all without a single election to hold them accountable. Unless Democrats mobilize against it, the Courts will ram through the pieces of a Republican agenda that are too unpopular to survive a vote in Congress.

The honeymoon period many Democrats have felt since Biden’s inauguration is long over. It’s time for women—and everyone who claims to care about us—to rise up, fight back, and work around the clock to expand the Court and preserve our House and Senate majorities in the upcoming midterm elections.

If we choose not to, we might lose the right to choose how we live our lives altogether.