In Texas, all hell is breaking loose. First up: mask mandates.
In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott used an executive order to institute a ban on mask mandates by any government entity, including school districts. This is less than ideal, considering Texas has alarming COVID-19 rates and a dwindling number of ICU beds.
Plenty of local school districts issued mask mandates anyway. And at least one North Texas school district came up with a creative loophole: putting masks in the dress code. The Paris Independent School District, which covers around 4,000 students, said including mask wearing in the dress code was “consistent with its statutory authority.”
But the counties and school districts that defied Abbott more explicitly have been stuck in a legal battle with the state. They finally received some good news on Thursday, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled in their favor and refused to block temporary restraining orders against Abbott’s mask mandate ban. And a few hours later, the Texas Education Agency agreed to stop enforcing Abbott’s ban in the school systems while the legal fight is still ongoing.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, we haven’t even gotten to what’s going on with abortion in Texas.
Last Wednesday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law that effectively bans abortion at 15 weeks. This is five-alarm bad. It’s the first time a federal court has ever upheld a gestational ban.
This comes a couple of months after Abbott signed an even more draconian abortion ban: SB 8, which bans abortion at six weeks. The law has been challenged by abortion providers, and as we wait for a ruling from the district court as to whether it can go into effect on September 1, here are a few things to consider:
Banning abortion at six weeks is banning abortion. Period. Six weeks is before many people know they’re pregnant—and politicians like Abbott know this. That’s also why these laws are never upheld by the courts.
SB 8 also changes who has standing to sue abortion providers. In non-legalese: Typically you’ve got to have some skin in the game to sue someone. So in this case, you would have to be a patient. SB 8 changes that and grants standing to anyone. That means your racist uncle can sue an abortion provider or anyone involved in obtaining an abortion, like an abortion fund or the person who drives you to the clinic—essentially putting a bounty on them.
The Fifth Circuit decision indicates a judicial willingness to uphold bans that even a few years ago the court would have never considered. Even if the district court doesn’t let SB 8 go into effect, Texas will likely file an emergency appeal using the Fifth Circuit decision to effectively say, “Hey, you folks said we could implement a gestational ban!”
And did we mention that last week Brownsboro became the 15th East Texas community to ban abortion within city limits? Oh, and the Texas legislature is also advancing a bill restricting medication abortion access.
So what does this all mean? The TLDR is … quite honestly, not good. It means abortion access is dwindling in Texas, and there’s a real possibility that soon there truly won’t be any access to abortion in the state. This increasingly volatile landscape means that many Texans are already unsure if abortion is legal in their state.
The irony is not lost on us that as state Republicans decry mask mandates as infringing on their bodily autonomy, they’re stripping pregnant people of their rights to bodily autonomy.
But like abortion bans, mask mandate bans don’t actually have anything to do with public health. They’re both power grabs—policies put in place to further marginalize the vulnerable and keep the powerful in power.
This post has been adapted from a Twitter thread.