Within 24 hours of removing government mask mandates in the name of bodily autonomy, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a restrictive abortion ban that would strip Texans of those very same human rights.
This latest attack on reproductive rights is part of a broad onslaught of anti-abortion bills passed by statehouses in 2021. It follows on the heels of the Supreme Court‘s announcement that it will hear a Mississippi case that could severely undermine Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. We now face a terrifying possibility that a right so many fought to secure—a right that I was born with—could soon be taken away.
Texas Senate Bill 8, like many other similar bans passed by conservative states, prohibits Texans accessing or using abortion services after six weeks—before many even know they are pregnant. The only exceptions are medical emergencies; pregnancies resulting from rape or incest are not exempt.
In addition to those severe restrictions, SB8 is laced with provisions designed to hinder attempts to challenge it legally. Whereas abortion restrictions are normally enforced by the government, SB8 empowers private citizens to sue any person whom they feel may have violated the law. That’s a canny, tactical move by the bill’s authors to make it nearly impossible to challenge the bill by suing the government over enforcement actions, as pro-choice advocates and abortion providers have often done.
The bill demonstrates a lack of care for pregnant people and a lack of understanding of gestational periods. Gestational age bans (restriction of abortion services by stage of pregnancy) have become the weapon of choice for anti-abortion advocates, and a strategic step toward eliminating access to abortions entirely.
A six-week ban means that pregnant people would have just two weeks after a missed menstrual cycle to consider their options and work to overcome the medically unnecessary obstacles to accessing abortion services in Texas.
For example, Texas requires mandatory counselling that often discourages abortion, followed by a 24-hour waiting period between the counseling and the procedure. Parental consent in the case of minors and advance notice are also required. Doctors must be physically present to prescribe abortion medication, which excludes telemedicine and raises barriers to entry for those who can’t spend the time or the money to travel to a provider. Texas also restricts abortion coverage in private insurance plans to cases where giving birth would be life threatening or debilitating.
These restrictions are dressed up in the guise of protecting women’s health and safety. But their real effect is making it harder to access essential health care, leading to bad outcomes. Texas’ latest abortion ban will not decrease abortions in the state because abortion restrictions generally don’t drive abortions down, just underground. Those whom the new restrictions force to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term will feel the economic and social impacts for the rest of their lives.
As someone born and raised in Texas, it is disheartening to see how little its government values the right of people like me to exercise our bodily autonomy. Having gone through the Texas public education system, I am aware of just how little is being done to address the reasons why people might seek abortions in the first place. Texas does not mandate evidence-based sexual education, and instead stresses an ineffective, abstinence-only, shame-based curriculum. It also restricts contraceptive access. It’s ranked ninth in the nation for teen pregnancy, and 54 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned. No wonder the Population Institute report card gave Texas an F minus on reproductive health and rights.
Though the six-week ban has been signed, it has not gone into effect. Texans can still access abortion services after six weeks, at least for now. That’s also true in other states which passed gestational age bans since 2019, because they have been blocked by the lower courts.
But that could soon change. If the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, upholds Mississippi’s 15-week ban, it will contradict the Roe v. Wade principle that abortion before fetal viability is constitutional. That would weaken abortion rights and trigger implementation of gestational bans in many states.
Like many other Texans, I am tired of leadership that attacks our constitutional rights, including reproductive freedom. Our rights are on the line. It is now more important than ever that we fight back.
Theiija Balasubramanian is a Houston native, a rising sophomore at Duke University and a Stanback Fellow at the Population Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that supports reproductive health and rights.